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In Adding Dwyane Wade, The Bulls Show They'd Rather Go Big Than Build

...and there's not necessarily anything wrong with that. In bringing in a favorite son, the Bulls have created a strange sort of in-between team. But why not?

by John Wilmes
Jul 7 2016, 12:39pm

Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

There are some obvious problems with the Chicago Bulls' signing of Dwyane Wade to a two-year deal worth $47.5 million. Two of those are that Wade is 34 and is working on a decade of on-and-off knee problems. It helps that he's a Hall of Fame talent, and it helps in a more ambient sense that he's a Chicago native, but when considered alongside summer acquisitions Robin Lopez and Rajon Rondo—somehow an even worse shooter than the departed Derrick Rose—Wade will be the fulcrum of one of the least stretchy, most logjammed offenses in the Eastern Conference.

Of course, the East has long been an exercise in logjams and shit tunnels and flaccidity; still, Chicago's new Rondo/Wade backcourt combined for fewer three-pointers last season than Stephen Curry hit in his first 14 games. It fits, then, that the Bulls gave up two of their few effective three-point shooters, Jose Calderon and Mike Dunleavy, in desperation trades to Los Angeles and Cleveland, respectively, to clear enough salary cap room for Wade. Even in the East, there are standards. The new-look Bulls are barely catching rim on those.

Read More: Big Men And Big Movement In NBA Free Agency

Wade has also lost a number of steps, as happens in one's thirties, and his emotionally riveting, relentlessly relentless style of play, in which he attacked the rim like a particularly loathed enemy, was never set up to age well. The old "fall down seven times, get up eight" motto hasn't lost its resonance, but it is difficult to scale out over thousands of repetitions. Wade, while still quite effective and inarguably crafty, is definitely some shade of washed at this juncture. After Chicago's front office declared it wanted to get younger and more athletic—they joined the rest of the NBA in this goal—it backed off on both. There's a good chance that Wade's fondness for having and holding the ball will irk not just the obsessively controlling Rondo but also Jimmy Butler, the young superstar at the center of the Bulls' weird collection of talent.

Head coach Fred Hoiberg, furthermore, seems ill-equipped to handle the complicated ego cuddle-puddle that will surely sprout up between Butler, Wade, and Rondo. Building a new culture and identity, after saying a more declarative goodbye to the Tom Thibodeau Administration with their dismissal of Rose and Joakim Noah—they are, uncannily, both now New York Knicks—will not be easy in a locker room awash in these brilliant, abrasive ciphers. It is hard to imagine Hoiberg pulling it off, but also it is difficult to imagine any active NBA coach making it work. And that's before the strategic limitations come into play.

When you get emotional thinking about all the insanely good hot dogs that you can now eat. Photo by Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

None of this really matters, though. It will matter on the court, of course, but not to the voice within otherwise reasonable Bulls fans that is screaming, at a volume that is not recommended by doctors, "WE GOT DWYANE WADE, BABY!!!" Given that those fans were searching in vain for something to give a fart about in what was beginning to look like a sad and sorry post-Rose rebuilding season, that counts for something. Wade, a native Chicagoan, said in his goodbye letter to the Miami Heat that he is "thankful to have an opportunity to play for the team that first fueled my love of the game." This is a good story, and Wade is still an easy player to like.

While it would have been far sexier to get Wade when he flirted with joining his hometown team six years ago in free agency—he ended up cementing the superteam in Miami that was Rose and Noah and Thibodeau's roadblock to a championship—this is still quite cool. That Heat executive Pat Riley, one of the greater nemeses of Bulls' lore, lost Wade after overcommitting to re-signing Hassan Whiteside and mounting a quixotic chase for Kevin Durant, makes it markedly more so. Basketball-wise, the move honestly doesn't make a ton of sense. But also what are basketball considerations in a league in which Durant signed on with the Warriors? In the abstraction of a league currently making moves in Golden State's mammoth shadow, why not go for the good feelings?

That's not a rhetorical question, but this is not a time to be too forlorn about the abject Bullsiness of this move, and of the Bulls generally in recent years. The team's post-Michael Jordan existence, save for five years of respectable contender status under Thibodeau, has been basically a pit of mediocrity. The perverse and nepotistic front office structure, which is unchanged and seemingly unchangeable, seems to guarantee more of this. It is all too easy to imagine the future of the franchise looking like this:

And, if you squint and are sitting sufficiently far away, that does look like something good. It isn't, and that's a problem, but it doesn't seem to be one that the Bulls are too terribly worried about right now. It certainly isn't one that this move addresses.

Mostly, adding Wade compounds and defines that approach. Chicago gets great players when they are less great, for too much money and for too many promised possessions and shot calls and publicity points. Wade joins a history of waning twilight stars that includes Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton, the recently departed Pau Gasol, the recently acquired Rondo, and the blessedly forgotten second-lap Scottie Pippen, among others. When the Bulls don't get these players, they are just boring and anonymous and bad, so getting one qualifies as a treat. The games against the Knicks will be ridiculously intriguing. It's not much, but it's something.

The most likely reality for the Wade-centric Bulls of the next two seasons is that they will be a nostalgic goof troop that loses in the first or second round of the playoffs, or maybe the conference finals if they find a groove and the East stays pitiful. They will not challenge LeBron's Cavaliers, and they probably cannot beat the Boston Celtics—or, perhaps, the Atlanta Hawks or Toronto Raptors or Charlotte Hornets or Detroit Pistons or Indiana Pacers. It is, at least, easier to see what those teams are working towards.

Still, there's some chance there will actually be Awesome Basketball in Chicago, but far more probable is that what we have to celebrate here is the madness of modern free agency turning a legacy franchise into a drunk dude playing GM mode in a video game. There is a strange magic to this era of player power and freedom, and to the way it has rearranged the league's fraternity of stars with such violent vigor. Win or lose, good or bad—basketball results be damned—it's more fun to be part of that party than not. It's easy to critique this move from a basketball perspective. But if it does nothing but make a team that's been a drag slightly less predictable, it will at least have done something. These are the stakes in Chicago, right now. We might as well acknowledge them.

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