The larger value of Dwyane Wade was on full display in the most unexpected way after a random training camp practice, but its dividends should pay off for the next several months.
Wade’s greatest value won’t be his on-court savvy, locker room leadership or even his clutch shot-making that’s sure to save a few games this season for a team that will likely find itself being among a few teams scrambling for a postseason berth.
Wade’s value showed itself again after practice Tuesday, in the same manner it was initially displayed on his introductory press conference, when he made his return more about pumping up Jimmy Butler’s status on the team and his love for his hometown Chicago.
It came in the form of straight-faced realism.
When asked what the expectations should be for the coming season, Wade could’ve given a nice, cuddly quote about how the Bulls are a championship organization and how that’s always the goal for every team—something sterile and not necessarily untrue.
But what he dished out was sweeter than his preseason pocket passes that harken back to his point guard days.
“When you’re coming off a season where as an organization you don’t make the playoffs, your goal can’t be winning a championship,” he said. “It would be unrealistic to say, ‘Oh we want to win a championship.’ Of course we do. But it’s so many steps before you get to that.”
And with that, the adult in the room has spoken and changed the narrative on the eye-rolling or starry-eyed looks that have taken place from the media and fan base who’ve consumed the Chicago Bulls’ product.
For the last few seasons, or at least in the time this scribe has been around to witness the day-to-day operations of this franchise, this type of honesty has been missing by the framers—which in turn brings about a certain backlash when said expectations aren’t met.
Think how different last year would’ve gone from a reaction standpoint if Fred Hoiberg weren’t presented and packaged like a championship head coach taking over a championship roster.
The criticism wouldn’t have been so strong, because the public would’ve been rightly warned about what they were going to see.
“I think we gotta be level to this. I understand it’s every team’s goal to win a championship, every player’s goal,” Wade said. “But to get there, especially when you don’t have a team coming off a championship — Cleveland and Golden State coming from the Finals can say their goal is to win a championship — everyone else has to have levels to their goals.”
Wade isn’t a novice coach finding his way or stumbling over his words or sentiment.
Wade isn’t a determined coach staying up night after night devising gameplans to stop the monster in the closet, LeBron James, and lathering up the fan base by gearing them up for the ultimate challenge and by proxy, the ultimate heartbreak.
Nor is Wade a former MVP chasing the shadow of a ghost he can never catch—his own.
Wade didn’t script the scene, he didn’t prepare for the question as if it were media day when such notions are presented. He answered honestly, didn’t run away from the query and for one of the first times, someone tagged with the responsibility of being a spokesman for the Chicago Bulls looked comfortable in his own skin, comfortable in the reality of the day and not stuck in a personal fantasy.
“Your goal has to be day-to-day making steps to improve yourself so you can get to a point where you’re a playoff team. And then you go from there,” Wade said. “Our goal is to get better. I’m not going to put a ceiling on our goal. We’re not thinking longterm right now.”
It hasn’t been long, but Wade sees a coach who’s still learning, a leader in Jimmy Butler who’s still learning how to be the leader of a franchise, and Wade parrots the “10 players with three years or less experience” line as much as anybody—and it’s not a narrative he’s trying to sell.
[SHOP: Buy a Dwyane Wade jersey]
He sees the uncertainty of the roster and likely, wants to alleviate the pressure on some of his teammates who have trouble performing when the spotlight is at its brightest.
Wade isn’t lowering his expectations for night-in, night-out and he won’t go into games not expecting to win; He just won’t allow his teammates to crumble under weight they have no business lifting.
It’s not a dose of negativity; compared to the outsized and unrealistic expectations of seasons’ past it could be interpreted as such but Wade has gone through the gamut in his career, and knows what he speaks.
This is a man who sacrificed two of the best individual seasons of his career (2008-2010), two of the best all-around campaigns from a shooting guard not named Michael Jordan with the unrealistic but attainable goal of acquiring LeBron James in free agency.
He played with players whose jerseys should’ve read “Expiring Contract” on the back as the Miami Heat took a step back after winning a title in 2006, tore it all down and went all-in on the fantasy of creating a superteam.
And in the last two years he’s played with a team that should’ve been named Romper Room, having to nurture and be patient with talented but mercurial players the Heat wanted to build up in the event to show itself as a free-agent destination again.
He’s not stuck in the mind of a 24-year old dynamo who can create holy hell for 48 minutes on both ends of the floor. Heck, he even said, “I am turning 35 this year. Some days I feel great. Some days I feel 34.”
Who knows how good or not this Bulls team can be, and perhaps they win 46 games or so and make a run to the second round of the playoffs. But Wade isn’t hitting you with gas so come April the torches will come out from a misled fan base.
That cold water from Wade may not feel good, but just like the old ‘tussin that didn’t go down so smoothly, it’s just what everybody needed to hear.