Bulls May Be Stuck With Wade

Dwyane Wade didn’t make the All-Star team in February.  And now he can’t finish the season, injured again. So what did $23 million get the Bulls? Wade in 2016-17 was a 43% scorer (31% from three) who could no longer lead a team by himself. And so, with that as the evidence, can we say now that Pat Riley was right all along even though he made a very hard and unpopular decision to cut Wade off? And can we say that the Bulls front office celebrated a little bit too early. They may be on the hook next year for Wade’s monster contract, one Riley refused to give him.

It has been three years since Wade played in a NBA Final.  He has not appeared in a NBA Final without a generational player, one of the NBA’s best at his position. Either it was Shaquille O’Neal or LeBron James partnering with Wade for 5 NBA Finals appearances. But O’Neal and James have appeared in 8 NBA Finals without Wade. Wade has been to 0 NBA Finals without them.

Wade has a player option for 2017-18. If he opts out, he would turn down a $23 million payday; no one in the NBA is going to give Wade that kind of money when his skills have diminished.  Yes, he scored almost 19 points a game this season but he isn’t an All-Star shooting guard anymore. James Harden, Klay Thompson, Bradley Beal,  C.J. McCollum are all better than Wade. On his own team, Jimmy Butler is better.

Jimmy Butler thrived with Wade as a partner in crime.  Without him, Butler is going to have a tougher job and the chance of the Bulls making the playoffs are slim. The Bulls schedule isn’t kind to them. 6 of the next 7 games are against playoff teams. Their schedule eases up after that, lottery teams tanking, but will the Bulls be out of it by then?

Having Wade on the roster, the Bulls could fool themselves. At best, they were a lower playoff seed which means you are self- dumping in NBA hell. The Bulls need to rebuild their brand. They have an advantage many inept front offices don’t: a loyal fanbase.

The nucleus of all NBA teams these days is a not 30 year old point guard who has enough athleticism and skill to be able to get into the paint, sink a floater, pass it out to the three or jack a three himself. Elite point guards are special and are harder to come by. You get them in the draft. The Warriors drafted Steph Curry. The Blazers drafted Damian Lillard. The Wizards drafted John Wall. The Cavs drafted Kyrie Irving.

So in the midst of this horror story of a Bulls season, there is the draft looming in June and the prospect of not getting a top pick that will give them some talent, if they choose wisely. The top of this draft is supposed to be pretty nice with a Jason Kidd type point from UCLA (Lonzo Ball) in the top 5 and a shooter from Kansas (Josh Jackson). Not to mention on most draft boards is a Harden-esque game, Markelle Fultz, as the number one pick.  But the Bulls will miss out.

And so this circle continues.

The Bulls backcourt ranks 20th out of 30 teams in scoring. They are dead last in three point shooting and it’s not even close. They make 32% of their threes. You can’t survive in this league without a spacing the floor backcourt.

But back to Wade. This year was career lows: minutes, field goal percentage, two-point percentage, assists.  He had the worst PER since his rookie year. He had the worst scoring output since his rookie year. He is officially descending.

Jimmy Butler makes up for a lot. He is an All-Star player with an iso game and a shut down defender’s instincts. But with only one star, all the attention is going to come Butler’s way. He will face a steady diet of double teams.  Why would anyone guard Rondo?

Dwyane Wade was the Riley scapegoat and he will be the Gar Forman scapegoat too.  If only Wade had opted out, Forman will whisper, because that is how the Bulls do things, go behind the scenes and smear reputations. But Forman gave Wade this deal, a Wade who couldn’t make the All-Star team. The Bulls charade has been exposed.

The Bulls are the sixth worst scoring team. Wade’s 18 points didn’t help. Furthermore,  Wade nor Butler has made the Bulls young players better.

The Bulls defense is top-10 rated but so what?  This is still a game about putting the ball in the hoop and having talented scorers who can shake off defenders, get in the paint and do things with the ball. Dwyane Wade, on the season, is a -3.5. The last time his plus/minus wasn’t underwater was his last year playing with LeBron James.

Dwyane Wade has an offensive rating of 104. It has been three years since Wade has had a 110+ offensive rating and that was when he was partner to LeBron James. (Jimmy Butler has an offensive rating of 121. His plus-minus is +2.1)

Danny Ainge was the first GM to trade popular championship Hall of Fame players (Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) and the next year he followed it up with cutting Rajon Rondo loose. Now the Celtics have a lot of young talent and have been in the playoffs for three straight years.

Maybe Gar Forman is as clueless as we thought. By signing Wade to  a Kobe deal because that hid the nothing free agent moves Forman made, the chickens have come home to roost. Forman is the clueless villain many thought. Maybe he saw Wade’s career going downhill, not fast, but like water trickles down a mountain. Maybe he compromised knowing that Wade wasn’t worthy of a $20+million contract and golden parachute but he made the Bulls interesting. The Bulls are not interesting anymore. They are an average team with a great young player and pieces that don’t fit and a coach who was earmarked to fail.

Add a $23 million dollar contract to that bag of goodies.

photo via llananba