Forget what Dwyane Wade wanted and felt he deserved, Pat Riley did not approach contract discussions with Wade this offseason the way one should approach “family.” Or the greatest player in franchise history. The Heat lifer. Riley’s first reported offer of $10 million was flat out insulting — that’s the kind of money Matthew Dellavedova just got. Eventually, Miami upped its offer to $20 million a year, but that was less money and one less year than Wade wanted. Wade wanted to be made whole for past sacrifices, he wanted to see the respect of the organization that way, and he had lost faith the Heat would be good for it. Through it all, Riley reportedly never even picked up the phone to talk to Wade directly.
Wade found the respect — and money — he was looking for in Chicago. He signed there.
Pat Riley and Heat management were clearly okay with that outcome.
In the cold, harsh world of the NBA on the court they were right — Miami is both the better team next season, and they are better positioned for the future. With or without Wade.
With no Wade — or Luol Deng, or Joe Johnson — Miami probably takes a step back, but not a huge one (unless Chris Bosh is out). Next season the Heat still will have newly re-signed Hassan Whiteside in the paint. They will have Goran Dragic running the point — and he will have the ball in his hands more, a good thing (particularly in the fourth quarter, when Wade would often start to dominate the rock). They hope to have an All-Star in Chris Bosh back (although that remains up in the air). They have good young players like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Tyler Johnson (if they match the Nets offer). They have a roster that fits the up-tempo style Erik Spoelstra wants to play. While they will miss Wade’s scoring at times, if Bosh is healthy they are certainly a playoff team and potentially a top-four seed in the East.
More importantly, they have is the kind of base of talent — and lifestyle, and no state tax — that will have free agents considering them as an option next summer (how much money they will have depends on Johnson, Bosh, who else they sign). There is a style of play, a system. What Pat Riley has given Miami is a blueprint and flexibility. One that didn’t necessarily fit Wade as he aged.
What is the Bulls’ plan?
Here is GM Gar Forman’s quote after the Derrick Rose trade: “We need to get younger and more athletic.” Are Rajon Rondo and a 35-year-old Wade who has had chronic knee issues younger and more athletic? Robin Lopez isn’t part of that answer.
The bigger question is how all these players fit together. Wade, Rondo, and Jimmy Butler all work best with the ball in their hands — and all three are ball stoppers. They like isolation sets (or a pick-and-roll) where they are in control of the shot and the tempo of the offense. Butler is okay working off the ball, but Wade and Rondo are not. Plus there is no shooting — Jimmy Butler is the best shooter of the three and he hit just 31.2 percent from three last season. Robin Lopez isn’t spacing the floor. Chicago’s best outside shooter is Fred Hoiberg, and he’ll be wearing a suit. The Bulls may have to start Nikola Mirotic just to have someone who can keep defenses from completely packing the paint (Doug McDermott may get extra run for the same reason).
Then there are the defensive issues — Rondo and Wade struggle on that end, and while Lopez can defend the rim some he’s not the NBA’s most mobile big out there. The Bulls can be forced into bad defensive matchups every time down, and their transition defense will be horrific.
Chicago does have something it can sell. Wade is a star, people will pay to see him. He will bring some excitement to the United Center. If he can stay healthy and play 74 games as he did last season — and that is far from a sure thing — he can help Chicago win a few games. He will make the Bulls more entertaining.
But how is this team getting younger and transitioning to the future? Is this really Butler’s team now? Miami will have a lot of cap space next summer, but players (and their agents) and have questions about why they should come to this roster. What is the long-term plan they are signing up for? Nothing is evident.
The Bulls will make the playoffs in the East, but as a lower seed that gets bounced in the first round. They have the cap space to chase free agents next summer, but will the talent come?
If a top free agent is choosing a destination and the money is equal, they will see plan and a brighter future in Miami. The Heat are better positioned to get a star, even if Wade stays and recruits.
The bottom line is the Bulls may be a little more dramatic and entertaining after this move, but this Heat team is simply better. And will be for years to come.