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NBA AM: Dwyane Wade and the $23 million Decision

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As the Cleveland Cavaliers prepare for a do-or-die Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors on Monday night, Dwyane Wade is pondering his future.

The Chicago Bulls guard was on hand at the Quicken Loans Arena for Game 4 of the 2017 NBA Finals on Friday night and caused a bit of a stir. Wade’s unexpected departure from the Miami HEAT last season saw the 35-year-old shooting guard sign a two-year contract worth $47 million with his hometown Bulls, with the second season being at his option. With a potential $23.8 million coming to him next season, Wade certainly has financial incentive to opt in to his final year, but the basketball-viewing public may be in suspense until June 27—the deadline for Wade to exercise his option.

Per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Wade met with Bulls management on Saturday, and the franchise emerged from the meeting expecting Wade to opt in to the final year of the deal. Were Wade to opt out, he would become an unrestricted free agent and would be free to sign with any team of his choosing. Whether he could recoup the forfeited salary in another deal with another franchise would be the most pertinent question, and considering his 18.3 points per game last season was his lowest scoring output since his rookie year, it wouldn’t seem likely.

What makes Wade’s situation worth watching, however, is the fact that the perception is that the Cavaliers need more firepower to compete with the Warriors, who began the Finals by winning the first three contests again LeBron James and company. Speculation has persisted for quite some time that James and Wade would again team up before before the end of Wade’s career, with the possibility being brought up by James in a 2016 interview with Howard Beck of Bleacher Report.

As a franchise, the Bulls are at a crossroads, with Wade recently suggesting that his decision as to whether to return to Chicago for the 2017-18 season would be influenced by what the organization decides to do with its roster for next season. According to the Johnson report, the Bulls were leaning toward bringing Rajon Rondo back next season (the franchise has a $13.4 million option on Rondo for next season) and according to a previous report from the Chicago Tribute, had a “positive” meeting with Jimmy Butler a few weeks ago.

Over the course of last season, it was rumored that Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics were scouring the trade market in search of a superstar that could help take the franchise to the next level. After being decimated by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, there was renewed speculation that the Celtics, armed with the first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, could make a play, via trade, for either Paul George of the Indiana Pacers or Butler.

Currently, there are no credible reports suggesting that the Bulls are in favor of trading the 27-year-old Butler or that the Celtics are interested in parting with the first overall pick in the draft. What is most beneficial to Wade, however, is the fact that he can delay his decision until after both the NBA Finals and the draft have concluded. If the Cavaliers manage to extend the Finals to a Game 7, it would be held on Sunday, June 18. The 2017 NBA Draft, meanwhile, is scheduled for Thursday, June 22.

In theory, if the Cavaliers lose to the Warriors and the Bulls improbably come to terms on an agreement to send Butler out prior to the draft, Wade could have incentive to exit.

Although it would be incredibly difficult for Wade to walk away from a guarantee in excess of $20 million, he has not foreclosed the possibility and, in theory, could attempt to reach a buyout agreement with the Bulls if it is decided that the franchise wants to turn the page and attempt to build around fresh pieces.

Of course, there are a lot of “ifs” here. As the Cavaliers must now attempt to do something that no team in the NBA has done since 1951, quite a few people have already begun wondering what the Cavaliers could do to fortify their supremacy atop the Eastern Conference and ensure that they will continue to have opportunities to contend for championships, especially if the Warriors continue to be the team they see in the Finals.

With Wade having met with the Bulls, it appears that the sides are moving toward renewing their vows for at least one more season. However, until Wade officially agrees, the resolution of the Finals and the conducting of the draft both will occur prior to his deadline.

So, if you’re a Dwyane Wade fan, circle June 27 on your calendar.

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About Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and international basketball.