January 30, 2017, 5:02 pm
One Big Thing: Rocking the Boat
The Chicago Bulls are in somewhat of a tailspin. Or a regular tailspin, that’s really up to you to decide. After a ridiculously hot start, particularly from deep considering the total dearth of three point shooting on the roster, Chicago has plummeted back towards the lottery.
To be fair, they’re sitting 7th in the conference at the moment. But things are not looking good.
A loss last week had Dwyane Wade taking some of his frustrations out in front of the assembled media, where he questioned whether or not his teammates cared enough to get the job done.
“I’m 35 years old. I have three championships. It shouldn’t hurt me more than it hurts these young guys. They have to want it.”
“I can look at Jimmy and say Jimmy is doing his job. I think Jimmy can look at me and say Dwyane is doing his job. I don’t know if we can keep going down the line and be able to say that.”
All-Star Jimmy Butler jumped on in, echoing the sentiment: “We don’t play hard enough. This is your job. I want to play with guys who care.”
That of course, led to Rajon Rondo’s Instagram post. Normally something this controversial will be deleted, but the mercurial point guard has kept the post up.
The caption is lengthy and Rondo touches on a lot, but aligned himself directly opposite Wade and Butler on just about everything.
“My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off. My vets didn’t care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. … My vets didn’t have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn’t change the plan because it didn’t work for them…. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”
Spicy. He’s also not wrong.
It’s rare for a lot of people to agree with Rondo, given his noted ability to disrupt functional teams both on and off the court. His reputation has taken a beating the past few seasons, and his production (his real production, looking past the simple box scores) has hardly made entertaining his presence worthwhile. But even given the baggage and the results, Rondo is still dead on. He’s not rocking the boat for no reason. His gripes are legitimate and go beyond his own desires.
Clearly he crafted his message with some forethought, having spoken to Kevin Garnett before posting his thoughts for the world to see. He’s not shooting from the hip; his statement is clear and purposeful, a juxtaposition of a healthy, successful organization with the Bulls in their current state of disarray.
While the rest of the roster probably appreciates the support, it had to ruffle feathers with Butler and Wade. Considering Rondo had recently been bumped from the rotation at the time, a lot of his words could’ve rung hollow. It’s hard to accept criticism from player who doesn’t play. It’s even harder to accept when you’re carrying the load just about every night.
On the flip side, how do the rest of the Bulls take Wade’s comments? He’s obviously earned some clout thanks to his Hall of Fame career, but it can’t be a pleasant thing to hear; or rather to read on Twitter from a few lockers over.
It’s a silly stunt to pull. Firstly, the hottest of takes has always been “they didn’t want it enough.” It’s a criticism that essentially boils down to “try harder.” There’s a variety of reasons why the Bulls aren’t successful, chief among them shoddy roster construction. Wade and Butler’s comments could (and should) be read as thinly veiled shots at the management group that put this team together, and they should be under far more fire than Niko Mirotic or Jerian Grant. Way on down the list of explanations is the notion that people don’t care.
The most destructive thing you can do is accuse someone of not giving a damn when it’s pretty clear that dedication to the craft is a career prerequisite. “Care more” is not something that tends to inspire.
And even if it is, that’s a card that can only be played so many times. And to even think about that motivational tactic requires a strong bond, something that newcomer Wade might not have with his teammates just yet. He certainly has their respect, but this won’t really work unless they trust that Wade knows them well enough to see how it might work. Only a few months into his Bulls career, it’s doubtful that he does. Not to mention what that might imply about the relationship with Jimmy Butler.
But as Rondo noted, the 35 year old Wade often gets maintenance days to keep his body right. Surely that was a widely acknowledged part of the deal, but it can’t sit well that the guy calling them out on effort is the one resting up. So should young players be upset with Wade for missing some practices?
As always, yes and no. If (and it’s a monstrous if) the Bulls intend to do anything of note in the playoffs, it makes sense to limit Wade’s mileage. Assuming that each individual wants to win (duh), they’ll probably accept Wade’s off days. On the other hand, given the reality of Chicago’s campaign, it’s going to look really bad if Wade is given time off as the season circles the drain.
It’s allegedly been addressed, but that can’t be a comfortable conversation. Maybe it shouldn’t be. The team may have worked out some kind of compromise amongst themselves, but the Bulls are swiftly headed for an era of mediocrity.
This whole mess also illustrates just how important team chemistry can be. I’m the last person to jump to defend “intangibles” when talking about team construction, but whether or not a team can keep an even keel is important. An unwanted distraction, even in the form of a valid response, from an end-of-bench player invites a circus. All 15 guys should be working in relative harmony, but instead we’re seeing this.
Expect some changes one way or the other.