BOSTON – Rajon Rondo has been on an endless journey of instability over the last three seasons as he bounced around the league from team to team. Suddenly, it appears as if he’s discovering a sense of equilibrium with his newest club, the Chicago Bulls, and it couldn’t be coming at a better time.
Rondo has surfaced as a leader for Chicago, and over the last month, he helped spearhead a late-season run that resulted in a playoff berth.
The point guard played a critical role during Sunday’s Game 1 upset over his former team – the 1-seeded Boston Celtics – as he tallied 12 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals, all while committing just one turnover.
However, his emergence as a top dog in Chicago has not come easy.
Rondo experienced turmoil with the Bulls early on, resulting in his benching toward the end of December. When he returned to the rotation midway through January, he had lost his starting role, much to his disdain.
Rather than let the situation boil over, he sought advice from some of his mentors: his high school coach Doug Bibby, and former Celtics teammates Kevin Garnett and Keyon Dooling.
From those discussions, Rondo realized, “I was never down and out; it just made me want to work even harder. Cream always rises to the top, and I knew I was trying to put my head in the right direction to go out and lead these guys.”
And that’s exactly what Rondo has done ever since.
The 31-year-old put his mind to the task and regained his starting point guard role by mid-March. He finished off the last month of the regular season with averages of 12.0 points, 8.0 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game while guiding the Bulls to a 10-6 record. During the previous four and a half months, by comparison, he had averaged 6.8 PPG, 6.4 APG and 4.9 RPG while Chicago experienced a mediocre 31-35 record.
Not only have his numbers spiked, but Rondo has also begun to embrace a leadership role with the Bulls. Chicago has a very inexperienced group of reserves, and Rondo, who is in the midst of his seventh postseason, is enjoying the process of teaching them the ropes.
“If those guys want to listen, I try to give as much advice as possible,” Rondo said Tuesday ahead of Game 2 in Boston. “When they ask questions, I always try to give my best advice, and not by just talking, I try to lead by example.”
Rondo believes the challenges that he’s had to overcome during his first season in Chicago have been critical to the development of his maturity. All the while, he’s looked back on his past experiences with veterans in Boston and has tried to channel their leadership efforts.
“When I had older guys around me, I kind of leaned on those guys for advice when I went through tough times,” said Rondo. “So I just try to lead, continue to work, show up on time, and work even harder.
“I try to grow each year, each day,” he added. “I wake up and try to be a better version of me. The older you are, the more mature you are and the wiser you become.”
Despite his shaky start in Chicago, Rondo realizes that he has stumbled into an ideal situation considering the position he’s in at this stage of his career. He’s found a place where he can lead, and he’s found a group of hard-working players who are willing to battle through adversity with him.
“I like where I’m at,” said Rondo, who is on his fourth team in three seasons.” I think we have a really good team. Despite (the fact) that we made a really big trade halfway through the season and all the different things we went through with 45 different lineups, we still made it to the Playoffs. And right now we’re trying to stay as consistent as possible and develop some kind of chemistry with these guys.”
With a content Rondo running the point, consistency and chemistry appear to be growing in Chicago. It’s one of the main reasons why the Bulls were able to finish off the regular season strong and squeeze into the Playoffs as the East’s eighth seed. It’s also one of the main reasons why Chicago finds itself at a 1-0 advantage in its first-round series against the Celtics.