Dwyane Wade fractured his elbow on Wednesday in an unfortunate incident that will sideline him for the remainder of the regular season. The Bulls guard told reporters Thursday that the next four weeks will be about watching Jimmy Butler “kick ass” and “rise to the challenge,” leading the team to the playoffs. That will not be easy, as the Bulls are 32-36, 10th in the East and a game behind the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat in the standings. More interesting than whether or not the Bulls can claim the eighth seed, though, is what happens after that. Wade said it was too early to say whether or not his injury would affect what he does this summer, but he has a big decision to make. The 35-year-old has a $23.8 million player option next season. We know this isn’t the be-all, end-all for Wade because he said in training camp that winning a title was “unrealistic” for this Bulls team. It’s unlikely, however, that he thought the Bulls would be under .500 and fighting for a playoff spot. He has made no secret of the fact he’s frustrated with the front office’s decision to try to develop young players and make the playoffs at the same time, and he has acknowledged that his experience in his first season in his hometown will affect what he does in the offseason. Does Wade trust management to improve the team enough to be more competitive next season? This is questionable, as the Bulls seem like it genuinely wants to get younger and rebuild now — we don’t even know if Butler will even be on the team next year.Will a better team offer him a contract he finds reasonable? This an open question because it’s unclear whether or not he would sacrifice money.Wade could join any contender he wants if he’s willing to take a minimum contract. That’s a big if, which brings us to the next variable.Wade said earlier this season that he is not “ring chasing,” but he elaborated on that comment in January.
“The reason I said that, [the media] asked me a question about going to the Cavs this summer and I said, “Well, I think they had like $2.4 million [to offer],” Wade said. “It ain’t that bad. It ain’t that bad for me now. I do got three rings … that’s what I meant. In the sense, when you’re a veteran guy, you’re older, some guys have taken those sacrifices — David West last year, he gave all his money back to go to San Antonio. It’s something that he wanted to do, he wanted to put himself in position to try to win a ring. I have three, I’ve been in five Finals, so I don’t need to do that. But it is a time where you can compete too. It’s just a fine line between what you really want. That’s not what I want.”
This is what you have to keep in mind when you start imagining him joining his friend LeBron James with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Wade knows he can do that, but he said fairly recently that he doesn’t think he needs to. The Cavs can’t conjure up cap space to sign him, and other top-tier teams have the same issue. When negotiations didn’t go as planned with the Heat last summer, Wade talked to the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, not just the Bulls. If the Nuggets still want to sign him — a real question given how good their young wings are — then they could offer him as much or more money than he’d make in Chicago. The Bucks couldn’t quite do that, but they could at least make a competitive offer if Greg Monroe declines his player option. You never know who else could reach out with a rich, short-term deal — how much do you think his veteran leadership would be worth to the Minnesota Timberwolves, for example? When Wade has been on the bench, the Bulls have been 3.2 points per 100 possessions better than when he has been on the court. This isn’t exactly his fault — the front office signed him after signing Rajon Rondo and went into the season desperately in need of more shooting. Chicago never addressed the issue, leading to terrible spacing and an awkward offense. Wade started the season on fire from downtown, but regressed to 31.5 percent — it is clear that he needs to be surrounded by shooters in order to be successful.Given Wade’s recent comments and the mid-January venting session with Butler , I wonder how important it is for him to be on a veteran team. I also wonder if he’s at the point in his career where he’d be willing to accept a role as a sixth man. His efficiency has steadily declined in the last three seasons — perhaps that trend could be reversed if he was leading somebody’s second unit.