The Golden State Warriors have cast a cloud over the NBA, and the most admirable (and obvious) side effect taking place beneath it is an arms race among the few organizations already positioned to make the Warriors sweat.
The most recent maneuver was first reported on Tuesday: Dwyane Wade will join the Cleveland Cavaliers. The news is more wistful than significant for a couple reasons: Wade is 35 years old and his True Shooting percentage was lower than Andre Roberson's last season.
But the degree to which the three-time champion's residual expertise is relevant in a Finals rematch against Golden State is reasonably up for debate. He's a 12-time All-Star who averaged 18 points per game last year with weaknesses that might be ever so slightly overblown: After Wade only made 32.1 percent of his threes in his first nine postseasons, he's canned 42.2 percent behind the arc since 2014.
He also shot 47.6 percent from the corner during the 2016-17 regular season, but given how random and tiny this sample size is (drilling wide open shots against the Charlotte Hornets is a bit different than tightly contested ones when confronted in the Finals by the defending champs) these numbers are far from gospel. Wade's spacing issues, defensive malaise, and general inconsistency are part of the package as he ages into natural decline.
The Chicago Bulls averaged 2.7 more points per 100 possessions with Wade on the sidelines last season, and Jimmy Butler's net rating leapt from 0.1 with Wade to 5.4 without him. A bench role is where he's best suited in Cleveland (even while Isaiah Thomas is injured), but deploying Wade beside Derrick Rose would be like refusing to buy an iPhone because your Nokia 3360 still makes calls.
All that said, Wade is an upgrade for the Cavaliers. His experience (particularly beside LeBron James), willingness to take/ability to make difficult shots, and size alone make him worth a flier in a reduced role on a team gunning for its second title in three years.
While the NBA's landscape will likely see significant turnover between now and late February, Wade's decision doubles as an early reminder of buyout season. Again, a lot can change between now and then, but here's a look at three players who, if they aren't traded first, may turn into reinforcements for the league's current powerhouses.
In 2018, the rich will only get richer.
Belinelli bounced back from a wretched 2015-16 with the Sacramento Kings and re-established himself as a decent NBA role player last year. Now 31 years old, he's a roving shooter with modern offensive skills that force help defenders to stay home and pay attention.
He'll never again be the revelation he was during his first year on the San Antonio Spurs (when his three-point percentage was over 13 points higher than it was two seasons ago in Sacramento), but Belinelli can still engineer a decent pick-and-roll, cause half a fire alarm's worth of panic flying off a screen, and knock down stand-still jump shots.
He had incredible success operating from handoffs with the Hornets last year. According to Synergy Sports, Belinelli finished in the 99th percentile when attacking of a DHO. When wide open, he's gold, and so long as a team doesn't forfeit a first-round pick for his service, Belinelli should be viewed as an attractive piece for any contending or pseudo-contending team (Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, Celtics, Cavaliers, Warriors, Spurs) that wants to complement their established stars with the space he's still able to provide.
Belinelli's new team, the hard-tanking Atlanta Hawks, should be all for eventually setting him free.
The Brooklyn Nets are a bad, rebuilding team without draft picks. Systematic losing isn't their goal, and if Booker's presence makes it easier for their younger players to develop, in an environment that preaches hard work, discipline, and commandments better taught by veteran teammates than a coaching staff, it makes sense to keep him around.
On one hand, Brooklyn's frontcourt is already paper thin, and losing Booker would demolish its ability to have any impact on the boards. On the other, if Booker is bought out, the Nets can give his minutes to younger players who're more likely in their long-term plans; they can deploy more experimental lineups that harness Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll, and Caris LeVert at the four, and create wider driving lanes for D'Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin.
The buried question here, though, is can Booker positively impact a playoff series while playing on a good team? Would, say, the Boston Celtics add him for a postseason run? The 29-year-old is strong enough to float between both frontcourt positions and has more ball skills than his energetic reputation suggests.
He can finish around the basket and in the floater area (where he made 49.2 percent of his shots last season%20FG%20PCT&dir=1&PlayerPosition=F), third best—behind Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant—among forwards who attempted at least 125 field goals last season). And he's quick enough to blow by a plodding center or take the ball coast-to-coast off a defensive rebound.
There's an intelligence to his game, and an understanding of his role/limitations. That's nice—and he doesn't take too much off the table on the defensive end—but Booker can't shoot, and that's a scarlet letter in today's NBA. When opponents go small in the middle of a playoff series and he becomes a backup five who's only out there to set screens and crash the offensive glass, there's little reason to keep him on the floor.
Booker is a willing but sloppy passer. He turns it over quite a bit when asked to make something happen for either himself or others, further diminishing how useful he can be in a high-stakes environment where defenses will essentially ignore him. Still, positional versatility matters, and Booker did well for himself while surrounded by questionable talent on the worst team in the league last year.
A really good team can do worse for itself than play Booker 10 minutes off the bench.
In 19 seasons, Carter has only made it past the second round of the playoffs one time: A crushing loss against the Boston Celtics back in 2010. He turns 41 in January, and watching him actually contribute on a championship run would be kiss-your-fingertips perfect. Instead, right now he's essentially a caretaker on the Sacramento Kings, being paid to ingrain beneficial habits inside the team's young core.
That makes enough sense, but Carter is, honestly, too productive for that job. As more than a legitimate spot-up threat (according to Synergy Sports, he finished in the 88th percentile last season), the eight-time All-Star can space the floor better than most. The Memphis Grizzlies outscored opponents by 3.6 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court last year, and were outscored by 2.7 points per 100 possessions when he sat.
Carter can't defend the opposing team's top threat every night, but he's still a wing; switchy physical attributes make it harder to play him off the floor than it should be.
Nobody can blame him for grabbing $8 million from the Kings, but Carter should still have an opportunity to go out as a champion, assuming his body disallows him from being a meaningful factor in 2019 and beyond. Any team trying to upset Golden State (or Golden State) will have interest if/when he's bought out.