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NBA Sunday: Dwyane Wade, Still A Difference-Maker

If Dwyane Wade is bought out by the Bulls, he could help a number of teams, writes Moke Hamilton.

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He may be closer to the end of his career than the beginning of it, but even at the advanced age of 35 years old, Dwyane Wade still has something to offer to an NBA club. That’s why reports of a potential buy out with the Chicago Bulls are worth watching.

As a three-time NBA champion, Wade has become renowned as one of the top shooting guards in NBA history. With his legacy cemented, the assumption last offseason was that Wade would re-sign with the Miami HEAT and end his career with the franchise that drafted him in 2003. Things turned out a tad differently, however, as Wade signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract with his hometown Chicago Bulls.

After a failed season in Chicago, though, the franchise has traded All-Star guard Jimmy Butler and has embarked on a rebuilding project.

Now, naturally, the question of a potential reunion with the HEAT is being discussed.

“It’d be great,” Hassan Whiteside told the South Florida Sun Sentinel at a fundraiser for his Whiteside Foundation when asked about the potential of Wade returning to South Beach.

“It’s a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great.”

What becomes worth considering, however, is whether there is another team or situation out there that would be as enticing to Wade as returning to his old stomping grounds in Miami. The Golden State Warriors remain the cream of the NBA and the favorite to win the championship in 2018, and players around the league would love nothing better than to crash the party.

Could Wade join his buddy and former teammate LeBron James in Cleveland? Even without the 6-foot-4 shooting guard, the Cavs are almost certain to return to the Eastern Conference Finals this coming season, and that’s true even if they don’t net a king’s ransom in return for Kyrie Irving. With a potential deal on the table with the Phoenix Suns that would land Eric Bledsoe, Wade could potentially join a core in Cleveland that also features the likes of Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and new acquisitions Jose Calderon, Jeff Green and Derrick Rose.

In 60 appearances for the Bulls last season, Wade averaged a respectable 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game. He shot a career-low 43.4 percent from the field, but managed to connect on 31 percent of his three-point looks last season—a dramatic improvement over his career-low 16 percent connection rate in his final season with the HEAT.

Whether or not Wade can continue to be an impact player next season and beyond will be determined by how well he accepts his physical limitations, accepts a reduced role and conforms his game to be one more reliant on skill than speed.

None of those should be a concern for Wade, however. The future Hall-of-Famer willingly took a reduced role in Miami during the four years that he and James were teammates and has seen his minutes decrease steadily over the past five years and his shot attempts decrease over the last two. He’s never complained about either and has always put his team ahead of his personal agenda.

More importantly, as it relates to how Wade’s game has changed over the years, his usage rate has decreased since the 2014-15 season, where he was utilized 35 percent of the time, while last year, his usage rate was just 29.6—the third lowest of his career. Having had to co-exist with both Butler and Rajon Rondo, Wade also had to learn how to play off of each of the two. His doing so manifested itself in a sharp decrease in the percentage of his shot attempts that came from three-point range. Last season, 15 percent of his attempts were from beyond the arc—a sharp increase over the four percent the season prior.

In short, Wade has played less minutes and has handled the ball, shot the ball and even called for the ball less than we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Even still, he managed to play about 32 minutes per game for the Bulls in the playoffs, converting on 35 percent of his three-point looks and scoring 15 points per game. Before our very eyes, the great Dwyane Wade has already begun reinventing himself and conforming into a role player, and his willingness to do that is what will truly make him valuable to a gross majority of fringe contenders in the league today.

Those in the know in Miami contend that Wade would have been happy to re-sign with the club and end his career being one of superstars in the modern era to only wear one jersey for the duration of his career. At the end of the day, however, the finances got in the way. Some familiar with Wade’s thinking maintain that it wasn’t necessarily the money that caused Wade to seek greener pastures elsewhere, it was more what the money represented. When it mattered, the HEAT didn’t appear to appreciate Wade for what we had done and sacrificed for the greater good of the franchise. Immediately after his departure to Chicago, however, Pat Riley publicly acknowledged what was obviously a mistake. That’s what makes a Miami return possible for the greatest player in HEAT history.

Should Wade find himself a free agent, however, there are scores of teams that would be interested in his services—particularly teams that believe they are one or two pieces away from being able to contend with the Warriors. Among them, most obviously, would be the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics.

Make no mistake about it—despite his advanced age, Wade still has plenty left in the gas tank. And where he ultimately lands should he secure a buyout from the Bulls, could have a major impact on how the conferences play out this coming season and where the Larry O’Brien finds its next home.

The best part of all? With Wade, James, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony all potentially finding themselves as free agents next summer, we’ll get to do this again in a year.

Between now and then, though, Wade may find himself changing addresses again. We should all keep tabs on where he winds up.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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