Finally, Dwyane Wade was going to cash in. Not that he hasn’t been paid handsomely for his services—he’s made $156 million in his career—but the star two-guard has never been the highest-paid member of the Miami Heat and had only made $20 million in a season once. A three-time champion and an 11-time All-Star, Wade was finally going to get the Kobe-style balloon payment he deserved. And why not? With the cap soaring, zero-time All-Star Mike Conley had just signed a five-year deal worth just $3 million less than Wade’s entire career earnings up to this point. If anyone deserved a Kobe-like payout, it was Wade who, at 35, nearly led the undermanned Heat to last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
He didn’t get it.
Instead, after 13 seasons with the Heat, Wade signed with the Chicago Bulls, for two years and a reported $47.5 million—roughly $7.5 million more than the Heat were offering. For less than $10 million over two years, a franchise icon was lost. Given Wade’s age and injury history, this was probably the right move for the Heat to make. Given Wade’s contributions to the franchise, it was an unconscionable one. But if we know one thing about team president Pat Riley, it’s that he doesn’t get sentimental. (Well, maybe a little sentimental.)
Then there’s the matter of the Bulls, who preceded the offseason by stating their intentions to get younger and more athletic. They dealt former MVP Derrick Rose to the Knicks, declined to re-sign unrestricted free agent Joakim Noah (who followed Rose to New York) and seemed poised to turn the team over to All-Star guard/forward Jimmy Butler. A week later, they came to agreement with free agent guard Rajon Rondo, a former All-Star who has worn out his welcome on his last two stops. And last night the Bulls signed Wade, a Chicago native who does not seem to fit with either Rondo or Butler, let alone second-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
the bulls are not a puzzle with missing pieces as much as they are a puzzle made up entirely of pieces from totally different puzzles.
Hoiberg was hired as the successor to former Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau—to absolutely no one’s surprise—in hopes of rebooting the Bulls’ stagnant offense. The idea was an offense based around ball movement and three-point shooting, something that’s worked fairly well for, say, the Golden State Warriors. The Bulls, as currently constructed, are not much like the Warriors. The Philadelphia Warriors, maybe. Butler isn’t a particularly good 3-point shooter, but he’s worlds better than either Rondo or Wade. At least with Rondo there’s some hope—he took a career high 170 threes last year, connecting on 37 percent of them. Wade? He took 44 and hit seven. Stephen Curry had 24 games where he hit seven or more threes last season alone. And to make room for Wade, the Bulls had to trade Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Jose Calderon, both who can shoot threes.
This isn’t just about shooting, of course. Wade can still get to the line, and, more importantly, be the frontline superstar that Butler hasn’t become quite yet. He’ll sell jerseys and t-shirts and tickets. The hope is he can attract another max free agent in the summer of 2017. In short, the Bulls’s decision to sign Wade was every bit the business decision that the Heat decision to not re-sign Wade was, only with a different set of concerns. The Heat are seeking a return to competitiveness, turning the franchise over to the likes of 27-year-old center Hassan Whiteside and 20-year-old swingman Justise Winslow. Assuming he has fully recovered from the blood clot issues that have plagued his last two seasons, Chris Bosh becomes the team’s de facto leader, the last of the big three. Who would have ever expected that?
The Bulls? They remain relevant, if at the expense of anything resembling an identity or a plan. They’re not a puzzle with missing pieces as much as they are a puzzle made up entirely of pieces from totally different puzzles. Nothing fits. Still, they should be talented enough to return to the playoffs, which, while profitable, moves them out of the lottery just in time for a stacked 2017 Draft. Wade will bring excitement and storylines, but take minutes (and shots) from rookie Denzel Valentine and second-year forward Bobby Portis. Instead of building an identity, the Bulls opted to buy one.
Yesterday, I compared the theoretical Wade signing to the Ben Wallace signing, an unmitigated disaster that ended in heartbreak. Now that it’s actually happened, I’m willing to walk that back a little. Wade isn’t Wallace. I have no doubts regarding his leadership ability (or willingness to lead), and expect him to be a positive presence. Maybe it would have been better to compare Wade’s acquisition to Richard Hamilton’s, another one-time Eastern Conference rival brought in just a little too late to make a real difference. He kept them just respectable enough to win nothing. The Bulls have been here before. We know how this story ends.