No part of the Chicago Bulls’ 2016-17 season looked good. The team’s hot start was met with derision, its midseason swoon barely raised a hackle, its transactions were laughed at almost immediately after they hit the wire.
Stars fought, the ownership group and front office mostly hid. The franchise trotted out a clearly miserable coach in Fred Hoiberg who is most recently known for choosing the weekend return to prominence of a beloved, 5-9 Boston All-Star (who had just lost his sister to tragedy) to loudly and publicly demand for a deeper look into Isaiah Thomas’ uncalled palming violations. Tone-deaf, even for the franchise that has forgotten what “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project really sounds like, the team that long ago decided that you’d heard enough of Ray Clay.
If you want to discuss Chicago’s future with its potential cap space, available team options for Rajon Rondo, middling first-round draft picks and Jimmy Butler’s role in all of this, go ahead. There are spaces to ponder about Nikola Mirotic’s restricted free agent turn, or the price that the team could return for Butler a year after showing up three months too late to trade discussions surrounding 2016’s draft night.
The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reports that team president John Paxson is set to take a stronger lead in the team’s front office, which is weird because Paxson didn’t even play basketball at Iowa State, while many longtime team observers would like to remind you that Paxson’s re-ascension to the throne is no great thing.
This same crew, also featuring general manager Gar Forman, has been behind the series of baffling transactions and similarly preposterous non-moves (both the ones the team should have pounced on, or the ridiculous ones the squad reportedly considered) for the last half-decade.
To limit Chicago’s recent turn of luck to the happenstance that allowed the 9th-worst record to turn into the top overall pick in 2008 (Derrick Rose) or the best record somehow filtering into a pick that selects a three-time All-Star and franchise player (Jimmy Butler) would be to reveal ill intentions: Paxson and Forman have made a series of fine basketball moves in years past, among many questionable ones. Still, it has become increasingly harder to divine just why this crew is still in charge, and yet the team’s ownership group spins on.
In light of this, why shine on them? Let’s illuminate the work of the man who played this entire scene for all it was worth, with the potential for even more. Let’s credit …
Someone tell Wade he's on defense pic.twitter.com/gR0w6XIxMQ
— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) April 27, 2017
… let’s credit Dwyane Wade.
After 13 years in Miami, the Chicago-area native signed a two-year deal with his hometown club for $47 million in the 2016 offseason. It was an obvious play for both player and former team from the outset: Wade was not comfortable playing for less than the max in Miami after years of giving money back to president Pat Riley in the president’s attempts to field a champion, yet he seemed cool with Chicago’s sub-max, two-year offer to play for a team with no championship aspirations. A squad already featuring a similarly styled slasher in Butler, along bricklaying point guard Rajon Rondo.
Butler and Wade, martyrs till the end, got along famously in Chicago, while Rondo famously looked to be the odd man out – representing the limited and well-meaning reserves and helpers that dotted Chicago’s wildly inconsistent rotation during its 41-win season. Wade averaged 18.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.4 steals in just under 30 minutes a game with his team, playing in 60 contests and successfully coming back from an elbow injury that could have ended his season.
Presumably, after a year of storms and strife that he willingly bought into in exchange for a guiltless year, it was his lone season with the Bulls. Wade was quick to remind that his acceptance of 2017-18’s contract option of $23.8 million is no sure thing:
“I don’t really go with the signs. I’m not a predictable person I don’t think. But I don’t know, it’s not a bad thing for me. I’m in a good situation, whether there’s a lot of options or not. I’m in a very good situation to where as a player you can decide what you want to do.
And I have a lot of money to decide whether I want to take it or not. It’s not a bad thing — because I’ve worked my butt off for it over my career. But no rush in my mind. I don’t have to think about that right now. I got at least a month before my mind starts going there. So I’m just going to get away and let my hair grow a little bit, get a tan.”
— Sean Highkin (@highkin) April 29, 2017
“There’s so many different variables that come into play, especially for me at this point in my career,” Wade said after his exit meeting with the Bulls’ front office. “Like I said, I have a great luxury. I don’t need to ring-chase, but I can. It’s a great luxury to have if I want to do.
“Or I can be a part of passing down my knowledge to younger players. It’s either way. Whatever I decide, I’m going to embrace whatever role I have on a team. That’s sometimes being the second option. Sometimes I’m going to be the first. And sometimes this season, I had to be the third or fourth. It all changes, and you want to be the best at whatever role is presented to you. I’ve always been that way. It won’t change. That will always be me.”
Few have been blessed with the ability to suss options like these out. Wade is a surefire Hall of Famer, a three-time NBA champion that has taken teams to a title both as the lead-dog, and a 1A (OK, “1B”) helper. He is 35 years old, he genuinely hasn’t played consistently good defense in over a decade, and he looks out of sorts in an NBA that demands spacing and all-around play.
He’s also made well over $150 million from NBA teams in his career, and though that’s not commensurate with D-Wade’s offerings (this is a guy who led a team to a title while on a rookie contract, prior to taking the 2010 pay cut that led to two more championships) it will allow him to pick and choose offerings as he sees fit. Also, Dwyane Wade is still damn good at NBA basketball.
Scuttling the Bulls will be no easy call, as $23.8 million is a lot of dough. If he picks up his player option, Wade can put off either the ring chase or expected reconciliation (or, Pat Riley hopes, the both of ‘em) for another offseason. All while gliding through another season with a Chicago Bulls team that can’t expect to be work with a juice card, here: Fred Hoiberg never had any sway over Wade from the outset of 2016-17, now he’s going to demand more from the 15-year vet during his free agent year next season?
No opinion from the Bulls coaching staff and/or front office (there can be some crossover) is going to get in the way of an NBA team either chasing or dutifully ignoring Dwyane Wade this summer or next. The Bulls are Wade’s absolute creature in this instance. They have been since approaching him last summer, after hearing that the superduperstar and Riles got into a public tiff. Never open a joint checking account with a rebound relationship.
From there, Wade will look to do what eluded Clyde Drexler, Earl Monroe, George Gervin, and so many other aging wings that lost the battle with the NBA’s free market during their winter years. Dwyane Wade’s earned the right to attempt to have it all, and he’s going to see where that takes him.
Drexler, coming off of an 18.4-point, 4.3-rebound, 5.5-assist season at age 35 in 1998, walked away from the Rockets and the NBA after anticipating that he’d fail to come to terms with a post-lockout free-agent market. Drexler became coach at the University of Houston for two seasons, what could have been two very good NBA seasons, before resigning from that gig (with a 19-39 record) to retire to family life.
Monroe and his Knicks rowed until the very end, with the franchise spying his aching knees and advancing years, and Monroe battling pay-cuts until his retirement at age 36 in 1980. Gervin was let go by a nervous Chicago Bulls club partway through his lone season with the team in 1985-86, unsure of his on and potential off-court fit with sidelined second-year star Michael Jordan.
Dwyane Wade will have his pick of the litter, in this offseason or next. He can talk his way into acting the part of a sinewy swingman on an already-there team, or a seat-filler and point scorer for a franchise in search of a nice story and 18 points in 30 minutes of play. His long-anticipated reunion with Riley and the Heat seems a chilly prospect at this early stage, but summer hasn’t started yet, and Wade’s fallback option is primo: $23.8 million to line up for the Bulls in 2017-18, for a team that can’t tell him a damn thing.
He’s played this perfectly. Pat Riley is still churning, the Bulls don’t know what they should want. Scores of other squads will talk themselves into preparing Wade for the possibility of an improved culture, and a setting in which his mix of fibrous play and master’s-level expertise can work alongside a group better suited to enhance his very particular (read: 2006) mix of gifts.
The year 2006 was no joke. Dwyane Wade had to outlast some of the best years we’ve ever seen out of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Elton Brand and even an MVP-level turn from young LeBron, in order to run toward the ring. He learned from James in 2010 that no star should be above tilting the summer, and he learned from Ray Allen in 2012 that it doesn’t matter what the punters say or what critics yell. Not when you have a longer memory than all of ‘em combined.
Dwyane Wade’s whole career feels like a player option, at this point. Better than a palming violation, we submit.
Other teams that are gone until November:
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