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Bulls EVP John Paxson: 'Really good chance' team will exercise option on Rajon Rondo

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls executive vice president John Paxson says there is a "really good chance," the team will exercise its $13.4 million option on point guard Rajon Rondo next month.

"We're going to make those decisions down the road, but there's a good chance, a really good chance, that we'll bring Rajon back," Paxson said at his end-of-season news conference with Bulls general manager Gar Forman. "And for these reasons: As we get younger, it's still really important to have quality veterans around your young players. And to a man, our young people love Rajon. He was great in the locker room, he was great off the court with these guys.

"He took them under his wing in a lot of ways. He was responsible for a lot of the good things that came from them. We have a lot of respect for Rajon, especially how he believes in the game. He used to drag guys into the weight room. He held them accountable in a lot of ways so we really take a lot from him. And we're looking forward to sitting down with him this week."

Paxson's pronouncement regarding Rondo may come as a surprise to many around the league, given the veteran point guard's up-and-down season in Chicago. Rondo, who averaged 7.8 points and 6.7 assists a game this season, was suspended for one game in December after whipping a towel at assistant coach Jim Boylen's face. He was benched for five games in January because the coaching staff felt he wasn't playing "fast" enough.

Later that month, Rondo took to Instagram to defend the Bulls' younger players after Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler questioned the group's desire. He joked during the year that he wouldn't be back in the starting lineup all season, but then he returned March 13 and helped propel the Bulls into the playoffs. He averaged 11.5 points and 10.0 assists in two playoff wins against the Boston Celtics, but did not play again after his fractured his thumb in Game 2.

Rondo's potential return to Chicago was one of several key points hit on by Forman and Paxson in their session with reporters on Wednesday. Paxson stated that coach Fred Hoiberg would be back next season, but admitted that the front office felt Hoiberg had to grow as a leader heading into the third season of a $25 million contract.

"I'm not gonna get into the specifics about things we've seen," Paxson said, when asked what the Bulls have seen in Hoiberg that leads them to believe he is the right long term fit. "We have a lot of discussions throughout the year about issues we have, things with him, but that's for us internally to have and to talk about. I do believe that. I think Fred's challenge this offseason is to find ways to be a better leader. I think he showed progress in that area. The team did rally around him at times. But again, that's part of the process, too. We made the commitment to him. We support him. And we're in this with him. That's how an organization has to work."

As for Butler, Paxson said he is "far and away our best player," and that the Bulls would sit down with their All-Star swingman in the coming weeks to have an in-depth conversation with him about the future. Butler said after the season that he would like to remain in Chicago, but he understands the Bulls might look to trade him and rebuild this summer.

"The thing with Jimmy is all of us would love to go out and get another a superstar player to go along with him," Paxson said. "But right now the situation we're in with the salaries we have, that type of thing, that's a difficult thing for us to manage. I respect very much Jimmy Butler's professionalism and how he goes about his job. I think the one thing we will do is continue to communicate with him. Like I said earlier, we're going to sit down and talk to him. We can say anything to him, he can say anything to us. He can ask any questions he wants and we'll be honest with him. Look, that's the responsibility for us to do. He's our best player. Ultimately, Gar and I are always going to continue to do what we think we have to do from our seat."

Paxson also said that the Bulls would sit down with Wade in the coming weeks to discuss how they want to approach the future. Wade has a $23.8 million player option for next season and many people within the Bulls organization believe he will pick it up because it's highly unlikely that he will get that kind of financial commitment from another team.

"In a lot of ways Dwyane was really good for us," Paxson said. "His injury toward the end of the year hurt him, again we are just in the process, as I mentioned we sat down with the players, we went through, again as I said, it's saw, we're all, we just lost the night before we say down with these guys so you are all numb and your mind a lot of times isn't always where you want it to be in another week or so. These are things we will discuss and we told Dwyane we will sit down with him again during this off season."

Forman sounded optimistic regarding a return for Niko Mirotic, who will be a restricted free agent this summer.

"We value Niko," Forman said. "We see him as a 25-year-old 6-10 guy who can shoot. He's got to get better in certain areas. We had a really good conversation with him the other day. As we talked to him, Niko made it clear that he wants to be in Chicago. He's comfortable here, his family's comfortable here, we made it clear that we would like for him to be in Chicago."

Paxson also made it clear that there will be no major changes to the Bulls' hierarchy despite speculation of a shakeup from within. It's worth noting that when asked specifically who had the final say between he and Forman, Paxson reiterated that he answers only to owner Jerry Reinsdorf and team president Michael Reinsdorf.

"In my role as EVP, I always have the ability to say yes or no," Paxson said. "It's that simple."

Paxson and Forman took questions for more than 40 minutes, one of the longest Bulls' news conferences in recent memory. It's clear they know their roster needs to be fixed, but the reality in the short term is that there is a very good chance the roster heading into the 2017-18 season looks much similar to the 2016-17 version.

"We saw what you saw, and a lot of our fans saw, and that is inconsistency in our play," Paxson said. "And really a team that was searching for an identity much of the season. Getting to the playoffs always for a young group of guys is something that they can learn from, but with that said we always know that that's not the goal, just getting to the playoffs. Gar and I organizationally, we understand what we're facing, we've understood since last year when we decided to change course. But from ownership down, we're committed to working through the issues that we face. [Owner] Jerry and Michael continue to give us resources. Gar and I are committed to reshaping the roster, continuing to do that in a disciplined fashion."

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