Somewhere Thursday morning Kenny Williams read the headlines of the Chicago sports section and smiled.
Remember after the draft when Gar Forman said the Chicago Bulls planned to get younger and more athletic as part of a two-year “retooling” process. Well, that just got shot to hell. Why? Because the Bulls are going to sign 34-year-old former Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade to a two-year, $47 million deal.
After losing a bidding war for his services six years ago—a process that smelled more like a leverage play from Wade rather than genuine interest—that ended up in the birth of Miami’s Big 3, the Bulls finally got their man a few years down the road. That said, the addition of Wade’s scoring ability and outstanding reputation as an all-time great player comes with substantial risk.
Here’s a look into some of the positives and negative impacts of signing the 12x All-Star and 3x NBA Champion:
• Even accounting for Wade’s relatively advanced age, his addition to this Bulls team undoubtedly adds more talent to a roster that really needed it. Aside from Butler, the Bulls had no identifiable star just two weeks ago, especially after they traded Rose (though injuries have slowed him for the past five years).
Denzel Valentine, while he could contribute right away, is still a rookie. Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez are solid but not great players. We have no idea how good Bobby Portis will be in his second year and no idea how good Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic will be on a consistent basis, period. And Rondo, while an uncanny passer, isn’t a great scorer and doesn’t do much as far as creating shots for himself. Wade, at least until his knees/other creaky body parts say otherwise, can still give you that and just generally adds a consistent offensive threat. And you have a “big 3” that everyone’s at least heard about in Rondo, Wade, and Butler.
The Bulls projected starting lineup this season will look much different than last year's. pic.twitter.com/psSPSqk2SH
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 7, 2016
• After all these years, the Bulls finally landed a big-name free agent. Forget for a moment that this would’ve been an infinitely better signing five years ago. Whether it was because Wade actually believes the Bulls have the means to legitimately compete for a title, hates Pat Riley, or just wanted to make $47 million more dollars, this organization convinced a household name to come here. Sign of things to come? Who knows? But at least the curse is broken.
• Combined with the signing of Rajon Rondo, the Bulls have instantly become more interesting, regardless of what actually transpires when next season begins. Ticket and merchandise sales are sure to go up from what would have been projected a few weeks ago. That way, all the season ticket holders, shareholders, and whoever else holds a financial stake in this team can be a bit more assured that even when the Bulls aren’t a contender, they’ll still make money.
• True to form, the Bulls front office showed it has no plan for turning this franchise back into an annual contender, and this time, it’s completely obvious to everybody. This was a desperate move by a few guys (you know the ones) fearing for their jobs and hoping a shiny new acquisition would appease fans and their boss.
Some have suggested this is a shrewd, long-sighted move for the 2017 season, where dangling Rondo’s expiring contract and Wade’s presence on the roster could somehow help the Bulls make a play for a big name, like Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, or Blake Griffin. Who knows? They might even think they have a shot at the biggest fish of all—LeBron James—if he opts out of his contract again next year, if they can parlay the chance to play with one of his best friends into the steal of the century.
Truthfully, it looks more like the Bulls tricked themselves into thinking that, if Wade can ward off time for two years, Rondo plays more or less the same, Portis turns into Draymond Green, and McDermott and Mirotic become the East’s version of the Splash Brothers, they can make a shocking run at an NBA title. Or at least be able to pat themselves on the back and say they didn’t miss the playoffs two years in a row.
The former possibility completely neglects the existence of one of the best basketball players ever, who is fresh off of dominating the NBA Finals en route to his third title and is in the Bull’s division, let alone conference. Not to mention that teams like the Pacers, Pistons, and Raptors aren’t going anywhere either. And if they do manage to make the postseason, they’d be in line for another 14th or later pick in the draft again, which, unless they hit on a major steal, likely will not advance this team much for the foreseeable future. Basically, here come more years of not getting younger and more athletic…
• This Wade/Rondo backcourt could form one of the worst 3-point shooting backcourts Bulls fans have seen in a while. Wade’s career 3-point percentage: 28.4%. Rondo’s? 28.9%. Wade was particularly awful last year, shooting a grisly 15.9% on 44 attempts. Rondo, on the other hand, took the most attempts of his career (170) and actually shot far better than he ever has (36.5%). The year before, he managed 35.2% on threes, so maybe he’s making a late career improvement. If you go by what’s expected of them, however, the Splash Brothers they are not. Try Brick Brothers and you’re a bit closer.
Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo are taking their talents to Chicago.
3-point shooting is not one of those talents. pic.twitter.com/J62ZHHVAyR
— ESPN (@espn) July 7, 2016
This matters because Wade is going to be 35 in January and has logged more than 36,000 minutes in the NBA, playoffs included. How long will he be able to Euro-step his way to the basket in order to set up his other short/mid-range shots with no touch from outside the arc?
While he averaged 19.0 points per game last year, which would’ve been good for second on last year’s team behind Butler’s 20.2 ppg, his scoring average is certainly on the decline since 2011 when he averaged 25.2 points a game. Unless he somehow finds some 3-point shooting magic he’s never had in his career, his scoring will continue to dip or at best plateau.
• The Bulls are going to pay Wade an average of $23.5 million dollars over two years to not win a championship. Sure, that blow won’t seem so great when the cap spikes again to $102 million, but still…that’s a lot of money to invest in someone that’s not realistically getting you closer to a Larry O’Brien Trophy and could theoretically have his legs fall off midseason.
Wade has only played in 70+ games one time (last year) since 2011. If the Bulls hope to have him in the postseason, his minutes will require a lot of management, and he’ll need to miss more than a few games for rest.
And even if he is preserved throughout the regular season, does anyone remember how broken he looked during the Heat’s third and fourth straight Finals appearances a few years ago? Wade scored almost 200 fewer points in those two postseasons than he did in their first two LeBron-led playoff runs. Though he hasn’t been to the Finals in a few years, I repeat: he’s going to be 35 midway through next season. I’m going to go out on a limb and say he doesn’t have another extended playoff run in his legs. He’s not a lab-created physical freak like LeBron is.
Again, that’s a sizeable investment for someone who isn’t going to play every night, has a ton of mileage on him, and isn’t going to win a title for you. Chances are high that balky knees and declining skills will make this $47 million not very well spent.
I really wish I could be more excited about this signing. The Bulls haven’t brought in a free agent with this kind of reputation in…well, not since I can remember. And maybe it’s still a win for the Bulls just to have broken the perception, in some way, that big-name players don’t want to come here.
He could’ve gone to Denver for more money, but playing for a “meh” team in the Western Conference isn’t that appealing. Why not join a middling team in the East and see how far you can go with them? Plus, it’s technically home for Wade, though I don’t really think it’s a big a deal as people make it out.
But a 34-year-old Wade giving the proverbial finger to Pat Riley and coming here because we’re not in the West and will pay him what he wants doesn’t do it for me. The Bulls can trot him out in their introductory press conference and talk about how they didn’t bring Wade in for a rebuild and can win now with this group, and I, like many fans, will roll my eyes.
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) July 7, 2016
I’m not a general manager, but even I can see that this does nothing of real consequence for the Bulls. Putting butts in seats is nice and signing a superstar name can be thrilling, but real success in team sports is based in competing for and winning championships. How much closer are the Bulls to doing that after signing Wade? Not at all really.
Sorry to be a downer. But I’d rather accept that fact than pretend anything different only to be disappointed, as the Bulls organization appears to be doing.