Why did Rondo side with his younger teammates rather than maintain the “Three Alphas” front? Because, in and out of the rotation, Rondo had bonded with those other teamamtes for months.
This process began when Rondo voluntarily joined the Bulls at summer league, even practicing one day with a team that featured undrafted free agents who had no chance of making the regular-season roster. Rondo served as ringleader for informal workouts at the Advocate Center before training camp.
Once camp started, Rondo organized team dinners. And he drove to Milwaukee for an exhibition game in which the Bulls rested him to work out training-camp player Thomas Walkup before the game.
Mirotic, via Johnson:
“Along with Pau (Gasol), he’s the best teammate I’ve ever had,” Mirotic said.
“I feel so comfortable with him and I think all the young guys do,” Mirotic said. “He’s very honest. He’s talking all the time, supporting before the game, after the game, during the practice. He’s always positive. Even if something is not going well, he’s trying to help young players. It’s been great to have him here.”
Jerian Grant on Rondo, via Johnson:
“He’s a great teammate,” Grant said. “He’s been through a lot of different things and been able to show us the wrong and right ways. That’s good for us. He’s been extremely helpful to me. I’ve been in the gym with him a lot, picked his brains a lot.”
Wade and Butler, also resting for that exhibition game, didn’t travel to Milwaukee — and that’s OK. Resting shouldn’t be limited to not playing in a game. Likewise, it’s fine that a 35-year-old Wade doesn’t practice as much as his teammates.
The problem comes when Wade’s teammates believe he’s given unreasonable special treatment. That accusation is nothing new to Butler, either.
Meanwhile, Rondo has ingratiated himself with his teammates. Even when Chicago suspended Rondo for feuding with an assistant coach, word quickly followed about how great of a teammate Rondo had been. We can separate his problems — most of them declined on-court production — with his standing as a teammate.
That and his experience give Rondo a pathway to leadership.
Wade’s and Butler’s resumés also demand respect, but they also face challenges in connecting with teammates. Wade is a newcomer in Chicago. Even as he became Chicago’s best player, Butler had a tough time leading in previous seasons because the Bulls still had Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, two players who long-commanded attention in the locker room. Wade’s and Butler’s clunky attempt last week exposes the limits of their leadership.
If it’s Wade and Butler vs. the rest of the Bulls — the paradigm Wade and Butler established through their comments last week — Rondo stands on the other side.
It doesn’t help that Rondo seems to reach his younger teammates through positivity rather than harsh motivation. Either method could work, but it seems the young Bulls are partial to the former.
That just makes it more difficult for Wade and Butler to establish themselves as leaders. Wade and Butler can still get there, and as mainstays in the starting lineup, they’re more naturally positioned to lead. But they could take a lesson from Rondo, who has multiple teammates gushing about his mentorship style.