Leaving Wade County
This is the volume of this NBA Free Agency bonanza I didn't think I'd write. After diving into the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, I thought the real news of free agency would be done. Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat would dance like they have the past few years and then Wade would've signed and that's not really much to write about. It's a footnote at best.
Except he didn't.
Wade was on the market after his best year in three years and was getting offers significantly higher than the 2-year/$40 million offer that was on the table. Was Denver a real threat at over $50 million over two years? The Bucks were perhaps a little more serious of a threat as a young, up and coming team, but the threat of Wade going home to Chicago was apparently very, very real.
In the end, Wade signed for $3.5 million more per year and the second year is reportedly a player option. There's no reason the Heat shouldn't have made the moves to make that work. It was simple. They either had to get Hassan Whiteside to take $3.5 million less (which, based on his tweet, he might have done) or traded Josh McRoberts. McRoberts isn't a nothing considering Miami has no idea if Chris Bosh is going to play, but it's more important to have Wade.
The Heat made the wrong business decision. They made the wrong basketball decision. They made the wrong personal decision.
Franchise reputations are important and the Heat took a blow in that department yesterday. Pat Riley can't sell loyalty any more. Dwyane Wade was the franchise. Over $3.5 million in the most absurd cash happy market in league history, they let the franchise walk.
Now the Heat go from a team that could be in the second tier of the east behind the Cavs to a potential lottery team. If Chris Bosh was healthy, the Heat are every bit as good as the Celtics and Raptors. That's a giant if, and perhaps Riley knows it. Perhaps he knows it's not even an if, and Bosh will be forced into retirement by his life-threatening medical condition. In that case, at least there is some basketball argument here to re-start the re-boot as soon as possible, adding a lottery pick next season to Bosh's impending cap space, Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Justice Winslow to what he's selling to free agents next year.
However Dragic, Whiteside and Winslow in his sophomore year (depending on his growth) might just be enough to challenge for the playoffs in the east. It's not like this team is going to be at the top of draft next year. It's also not a guarantee that they can recoup Bosh's money because he still might be cleared to play. Why not at least keep Wade for one more year and save face?
That's the question I can't answer. Saving face mattered here. Riley and the Heat weren't interested.
As for where Wade is going, it makes sense only on a personal level. Wade spoke this morning as he co-hosted "Live with Kelly Ripa" about growing up in Chicago, dreaming of playing for the Bulls. Kids watching Michael Jordan all over the country grew up dreaming of playing for the Bulls, but to do it in Jordan's backyard had to take it to a different level. That's even more so when you're actually good enough that your dreams of playing professional basketball aren't far-fetched.
Now Wade will get to hear his named called over the famed "Sirius" intro music at the United Center. The problem is it'll be some time after Rajon Rondo.
The Bulls roster construction makes zero sense. At this point Jimmy Butler is a better version of Wade (better than Wade now, not Wade in his prime). He's a big shooting guard (who will now start at small forward, which he's capable of) with a complete game. He's got better three point range than Wade, but they are similar players who want the ball in their hands. Nobody gets the ball in their hands when Rondo is on the floor. He's a ball dominant assist hawk who, history tells us, is more concerned about getting his numbers than he is at stacking wins.
I watched him play up close for the 5 months he was in Dallas. Despite being a virtual genius, he is not that as a basketball player. He doesn't make the right play. He tries high-risk passes, often to no avail. He destroys offensive flow because of his inability to shoot. He's not a good defender because gambles far more than any player should. He's just not a good basketball player, but he is a high usage one. That is a horrible formula.
Now add in Wade, who is still a high usage player, and the plan to turn over the keys to Butler is hard to see. There's also a really good chance that Wade declines off a solid 2015-16 campaign because he's 34 years old and will turn 35 during the season. He'll have nights he's great. He'll also have nights where he's really bad.
This is all under a head coach who wants to run a pace-and-space system that involves ball movement and shooters. His three most high profile players don't fit that role. Butler can get hot, but is only a career 32% three point shooter and shot just under that number last year. Wade shot 7-44 on three pointers last season, a paltry 15.9%. Rondo was actually a respectable 36.5% on 170 attempts, but is 28.9% shooter from deep in his career.
The Bulls feel like a mess and have since the last year of the Tom Thibideau era. In many ways, the former coach still looms over the franchise. Derrick Rose and Joacim Noah's exits help, but Thibideau helped shape Butler. Rondo and Wade certainly give them a new identity, but their identity is 2011 Eastern Conference champions. The great irony there is they were the #1 seed in 2011 before Rose tore his ACL, which is why many have made the same joke about the Knicks who acquired Rose and Noah.
Rondo is on a one-year deal and Wade is a two-year deal with a player option, so both might only be around for a single year. The one thing I can defend the Bulls on is that this doesn't hurt them long-term and if they weren't going to be good (they weren't), they might as well be interesting. They now have big names and have a chance to fight for the playoffs if Wade is healthy and productive. It was going to be somewhat of a lost year anyway. Now they'll at least have a reason for fans to come to the arena.
Big Men, New Cities
The two other big moves that never got covered in the three previous volumes of free agency roundup are Al Horford going to Boston and Dwight Howard going to Atlanta.
Horford joins a Celtics team that was in play for the 3-seed until the final day of the regular season. They become the second best team in the east, so long that they can replace Evan Turner. That might not seem hard, but Turner was excellent for them last season. He was their primary ball handler and decision maker in a lot of late-game situations. Horford's going to fill that offensive void and then some, but he'll do it in a different way and that specific skill (a decision making perimeter player) is an important one to have.
Horford also makes the Celtics more appealing for another star player. He's a perfect #2 player, so if a #1 level star becomes available, Danny Ainge has a great sales pitch for that star to stick around. It also sets them up well for the loaded free agent class of 2017. If they can play cap space and asset trading right, they might be able to form a big three that competes with Cleveland as LeBron enters his 15th year in 2017.
Howard replaces him in Atlanta and the Hawks are unquestionably worse. Dennis Schröeder is a total wildcard. Howard is a giant question mark with his inconsistency and injury history. They're probably good enough to make the playoffs, and it was a good signing for Atlanta that keeps them competitive, but I would rather have Horford seven days a week and twice on Sunday.