This piece was updated after publication.
When the Earl Grey, honey citrus, and matcha won’t cut it, there will always be NBA tea. This week, it’s a Bulls pre-All-Star-break brew, and the subtweets began steeping on Wednesday, after the Bulls fell 119–114 to the Hawks, slipping under .500 to a 23–24 record and finding themselves just barely boxing out the Bucks for the eighth spot. Chicago isn’t the only team with outspoken characters right now — I raise you LeBron’s “playmakers” comment and Phil Jackson’s desperate Carmelo shopping — but what else did the Bulls front office expect? Fred Hoiberg’s roster (one he didn’t ask for and one that doesn’t fit his pace-and-space style) overflows with personality, including Dwyane Wade, who has fully shifted past his prime to “in-my-day” uncle mode; Jimmy Butler, the only alpha dog on this team still in his prime; and Rajon Rondo, who … wait, he did have a prime, right? Did ’08 happen?
Regardless of whatever winning formula Chicago thought it had conjured this offseason, its locker room is a rash of conflicting attitudes. After combining with Butler for 73 on Wednesday and still losing, Wade spoke out first, going full Unc:
Butler also spoke out, saying that teammates should “do whatever it takes to help the team win … on either end of the floor.” Wade embellished his words with a single tweet (it should be mentioned: Never tweet, but if you must, tweet a picture of Michelle Obama to make your point).
After that tweet is where the drama unfolds faster than a display rack at Forever 21. And it unfolds particularly unfortunately for Jerian Grant, who (a) tweeted (see above), and (b) tweeted while being a year removed from rookie-hood.
Rajon Rondo followed up with an Instagram photo of his former teammates, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. There’s, like, a 19 percent chance that KG egged him on in hopes that he promotes TNT’s “Area 21” segment, but that’s beside the point. The point is: Rondo went off.
“My vets would never go to the media,” Rondo wrote. “They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. … They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. … I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”
Bobby Portis, a second-year player and presumably one of Wade’s “young guys,” liked Rondo’s picture, hinting that he’s on the Rondo-Grant side of this feud. Then, in a move that can only be described as the time in high school when your dad watched you try to sneak out in the middle of the night just to pull you aside and tell you he was watching the entire thing, and by the way, you’re grounded, Dwyane Wade liked it as well.
Please send your thoughts to Cristiano Felício, who is just trying to earn a living here.
Update (January 27, 2 p.m. ET): Fines and 70-plus-minute team meetings make the heart grow fonder. On Friday, two days after the loss to the Hawks and one day after Rondo’s Instagram post calling out team leaders, the Bulls announced there are no remaining team issues. Chicago GM Gar Forman did not take questions after the team’s shootaround, but did say that he was “extremely disappointed” by teammates calling each other out publically.
In a tangled interweb of “We’re all friends! No, really!” Butler said he was fine with Rondo’s Instagram, which he also claimed he did not read, and said that he “feeds off” and “likes” controversy.
Wade, who had liked Rondo’s picture, also said that he had no problem with the point guard. I think it’s pretty clear here that the team just wants to put this all behind it. Right, Fred?
Finally, Rondo wanted everyone to know that his 207-word-long Instagram rant wasn’t actually a rant at all.
So, to reiterate: Jimmy never read Rondo’s IG, but thinks it’s a fine post anyway, and Dwyane liked a picture that addressed the Bulls, of which he is a veteran, as having “questionable leadership.” Also: KNEW IT!