To say that the relationship between Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls’ front office is strained would be an understatement. Wade hasn’t communicated with management in over two months, which is why there have been numerous reports suggesting a buyout is inevitable.
Wade’s frustration stems from the fact that he feels the front office misled him about the direction of the team. As his June 27 deadline to opt-in to the final year of his contract approached, the veteran shooting guard wanted assurances from the front office that the Bulls would field a competitive team during the 2017-18 season. Wade didn’t want to opt-in and then watch the franchise enter a rebuilding period. Sources close to the situation say that Wade received those assurances. Jimmy Butler was also given the impression that he wouldn’t be traded, according to league sources.
The 35-year-old believed that if he opted in to his $23,800,000 salary, Butler would remain in Chicago and the organization would once again try to make some noise in the Eastern Conference – especially coming off an impressive first-round series against the Boston Celtics that went to six games (and one the Bulls may have won if not for an injury to Rajon Rondo).
Wade opted in to the final year of his contract on June 21. The very next day, Butler and the Bulls’ No. 16 pick was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick (which was used on Lauri Markkanen). It’s clear that Chicago is ushering in a youth movement, as they now have 11 players who are 24 years old or younger on the roster.
Shortly after the trade, Butler’s trainer Travelle Gaines sent out a (now-deleted) tweet saying the Bulls had the “worst culture in the league.” He also criticized Gar Forman, the team’s general manager, saying he’s “met drug dealers with better morals” and “he is a liar and everyone knows.” It certainly seems Wade and Butler were blindsided by the move.
Since the Butler trade, Wade hasn’t spoken to anyone in the Bulls’ front office. He’s had a few brief chats with head coach Fred Hoiberg, but they haven’t talked about anything team-related. The three-time champion is upset because he doesn’t want to waste one of the final years of his NBA career on a lottery team. That’s why recent reports have suggested that a buyout is imminent.
It’s hard to imagine the two sides making up after everything that’s transpired, but it remains to be seen which side will budge once buyout negotiations begin. Recently, several reports surfaced that painted Wade in an unflattering light. Some around the NBA wonder if this is the Bulls trying to frustrate Wade so that he’ll accept less money in a buyout just to move on to the next chapter of his career.
First, there was an ESPN report that Chicago’s young players no longer want to play with Wade – citing that some Bulls were annoyed that Wade didn’t practice very often. Tensions came to a head when Wade publicly called out his teammates for not working hard enough, which some players reportedly felt was hypocritical. ESPN’s Nick Friedell didn’t mince words when discussing the situation.
“The young players on the Bulls really can’t stand Dwyane,” Friedell said on The Jump. “It’s the little secret in Chicago; they have had enough. That’s why I think the Bulls are hoping to get this [buyout] finalized… Everybody in that locker room is kind of going, ‘Okay, how much longer is this going to take?’”
Reports haven’t mentioned any specific player and none of the prospects have said anything on the record. The report was surprising because Wade had solid relationships with Miami’s younger players over the years.
Shortly after, there was a Fox Sports report that Butler and Wade didn’t see eye-to-eye last season. Almost immediately, Butler denied the “so-called dislike” – as he called it – and pointed out that he and Wade have spent a lot of time vacationing and dining together this offseason despite the fact that they’re no longer teammates.
“For that [report] to be floating out there is crazy,” Butler told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I love that guy like a brother, and he’s done so much for me. Let people talk, but no one knows what they are talking about unless it’s coming from me or D-Wade.”
Despite the lack of communication and Wade’s frustration, the Bulls are publicly operating as if the 35-year-old will be with the team for the final season of his contract.
“We’re looking forward to having Dwyane with us,” Forman recently told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Wade is prepared to report to the Bulls if a buyout can’t be reached, but league sources say he has started considering potential options in the event that he hits unrestricted free agency.
While it’s far too early to label any team as a frontrunner to add Wade, sources close to the situation said that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat are two teams to watch as this unfolds.
Wade and his former teammate LeBron James are obviously still very close and Cleveland would give the 12-time All-Star his best chance to compete for a fourth title. If the Cavs were to land Wade, sources familiar with the situation said they would likely make him a starter and move JR Smith into a sixth man role. That makes the situation even more attractive since Wade wants to be a significant contributor wherever he’s playing next season. Last season, he averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals and .7 blocks despite playing a career-low 29.9 minutes per game.
James will certainly be recruiting his buddy if he hits the market. The two have talked publicly about playing together again before they retire and this situation makes a lot of sense.
And for Cleveland, adding Wade is a no-brainer. Not only would he give them another talented contributor as they try to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, adding James’ closest friend in the league just before he can test free agency next summer is significant. The move strengthens the roster and appeases James, so it’s a win-win. In the event that James leaves as an unrestricted free agent next offseason, the Cavaliers can say they did everything in their power to keep their superstar happy.
Then, there’s the Heat. Miami offers the most familiarity and the chance for Wade to end his career with the team he’ll forever be associated with, but it’s unclear if that story-book ending even matters to Wade. It’s worth noting that Miami would allow Wade to be close to his family, as it is true that Wade recently pulled his children from their school in Chicago and enrolled them back in the Miami school they previously attended. With that said, sources said this doesn’t mean Wade is a lock to re-join the Heat. Regardless of what happens, sources say his children will finish the remainder of their schooling in Miami because the specific school they’re attending meets their academic and athletic needs.
The Heat are obviously further from contention than the Cavaliers, but there are a number of other obstacles in the way of a Wade-Miami reunion too. For one, Wade and Pat Riley still haven’t communicated much since the shooting guard left the organization on awkward terms last summer. Riley sent Wade an email last November, which both men discussed publicly, but there hasn’t been any direct communication between the two since then. Instead, Riley has reached out to Wade through others, so that relationship likely needs some repairing if a homecoming is going to take place.
It’s worth noting that Riley and James developed a rivalry when the latter left Miami. Does Riley want Wade just to keep him from James? More than one individual has floated that theory.
There’s also the issue of playing time in Miami. While the Cavaliers are planning to make Wade their starting shooting guard if they land him, it’s unclear what role the Heat envision him playing.
Keep in mind, Miami just signed 25-year-old Dion Waiters to a four-year contract worth $52 million after he averaged 15.8 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 39.5 percent from three-point range last. He was a big reason for the Heat’s success in the second half of the campaign – when Miami went 30-11 and nearly landed the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Heat are clearly invested in Waiters and his development.
With that said, Waiters has recruited Wade over social media on Miami’s behalf. And in March, he expressed interest in learning directly from Wade – suggesting the two could co-exist.
“He’s got them three rings. He’s a Finals MVP [and a] top-three best shooting guard of all-time,” Waiters told the Miami Herald. “I’m chasing that. He’s one of my favorite players, one of the players I idolized. When he’s playing against me, I’m checking things he’s doing. Hopefully, one of these summers, we can get together and he can teach me some of the tricks of the trade of getting fouled more. I am definitely going to reach out to him to see if I can propel my game to a new level [by training with him]. That’s what the best players do. You see Kobe [Bryant] with Michael [Jordan]. A lot of guys go to Hakeem Olajuwon to learn. D-Wade’s my guy, one of the best players to ever play the game. It’s always been little brother, big brother from afar. I want to pick his brain.”
But if the decision comes down to starting for a contending Cavs team or coming off the bench for a Heat team that’s fighting to make the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine Wade choosing the latter.
Other teams could certainly enter the mix if Wade becomes available. It’s not often that a team can add a three-time champ who has averaged 22.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1 block over 172 career playoff games. Cleveland and Miami are teams to watch, but other suitors could surface. Last time Wade was a free agent – before he joined the Bulls – he met with the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks and seriously considered both teams, according to reports. Another surprise team could surface again.
But before Wade can make any kind of free agency decision, he needs to agree to a buyout with the Bulls. Those talks will likely begin soon and then Wade’s future, and all of his options, should be a bit clearer.