Mark Schanowski

NBA Buzz: Dwyane Wade's legacy gets one final chapter in Miami

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Dwyane Wade's legacy gets one final chapter in Miami

In case you missed it over the weekend, Chicago-area native Dwyane Wade announced he would return to the Miami Heat for one final season. It will be Wade's 16th season since being drafted 5th overall by Miami in 2003 (the Bulls were planning to draft him at  No. 7), and his place in NBA history is secure.

Wade enters the 2018-19 season ranked 31st on the all-time scoring list with 22,082 points and could pass three or four more players before he's done. Among shooting guards, Wade ranks 7th all-time in scoring, but when you consider all of his accomplishments, the former Richards H.S. (Oak Lawn) star deserves to be included among the 20 greatest players in NBA history, and probably the 4th best shooting guard behind only Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West.

In his retirement video, Wade talked about being an overlooked prospect in high school, not making the varsity at Richards until his junior year. Academic concerns reduced the number of Division I schools that were seriously recruiting Wade and he made a commitment to Marquette early in his senior year.

After sitting out one season as a Prop 48 recruit, Wade quickly established himself as one of the nation's elite guards, carrying Marquette to the Final Four in 2003. Still, concerns about his outside shooting ability and in-between size at 6-foot-3 had Wade initially projected to go somewhere between 10 and 15 in the NBA draft.

It was during the private workout process that Wade showed NBA talent evaluators just how special he could be at the pro level, and he began to fly up draft boards. Heat coach Pat Riley originally wanted to add a big man like Chris Kaman with the 5th pick, but after Wade wowed Heat officials in a workout, Riley was convinced to change his mind, ushering in a new era of winning basketball for the franchise.

Wade teamed with Shaquille O'Neal to bring Miami its first NBA championship in 2006. Wade was magnificent in the Finals against Dallas, averaging 34.7 points per game, to earn MVP honors.

Bulls fans know all too well what happened in 2010. Wade took two free agent meetings with the Bulls and by all accounts was close to committing to a Chicago homecoming. But after returning to Miami to think things over, Wade eventually decided to team up with good friends LeBron James and Chris Bosh in South Florida, a partnership that led to four straight Finals appearances and two more championships.

Wade did eventually put on a Bulls’ jersey for the 2016-2017 season, averaging 18.3 points during an uneven 41-41 season that ended with the Bulls blowing a 2-0 lead in an opening round playoff series against Boston. Wade eventually negotiated a buyout on the second year of the contract he signed with the Bulls, and played half a season with James in Cleveland before returning to his beloved Miami at the trade deadline in February.

Numbers alone don't tell the story of Wade's brilliance as an NBA player. He's always been adept at getting to the free throw line, and he's the top shot blocker among guards all-time. Wade willingly sacrificed his offensive game during the prime of his career to let James thrive in Miami, and he's also played point guard at times to showcase his skills as a facilitator.

Other shooting guards have scored more points than Wade, including Reggie Miller, Ray Allen and Clyde Drexler, but none of those players have won as much as Wade or had a bigger impact on the teams they played on.

Some Bulls fans were unhappy about the way Wade left his hometown team, basically taking about $38 million of the franchise's money for one season on the court. But the Bulls were committed to a rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler in the summer of 2017, and it made little sense for Wade to be taking away minutes from younger players the coaching staff needed to develop.

Wade seemed to be rejuvenated by returning to South Florida last season, and he'll be honored in every NBA city as he goes through his farewell tour this season. The Heat will play at the United Center on November 23 and January 19, and you can bet there will be a lot of friends, former teammates and members of the extended Wade family on hand for his final appearance.

The skinny, under-recruited kid from Robbins shocked the basketball world by developing into one of the greatest shooting guards of all-time. He's also a world-wide celebrity and business mogul. So, even though Wade didn’t wear the Bulls' uniform until he was past his prime, Chicago basketball fans should salute him for one of the more unlikely success stories the league has ever seen.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION PREVIEW

Wade figures to have few turn back the clock games in a limited role for the Heat this season, and Miami should be good enough to get back to the playoffs next spring as a 7 or 8 seed.

Here's how the Southeast should stack up this season.

1. Wizards: Unless free agent addition Dwight Howard continues his run of ruining every franchise he’s joined since leaving Orlando, Washington should be the class of the division. Led by All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards have enough offensive firepower to win about 43-48 games this season.

Otto Porter is an underrated shooter at the small forward position, and the frontline of Porter, Markieff Morris and Howard should be pretty solid. Question is, can Washington get enough production from the bench unit of Kelly Oubre, Jeff Green, Austin Rivers, Tomas Satoransky and Ian Mahinmi to stay afloat when the inevitable injuries hit?

2. Heat: Pat Riley went against the grain in the summer of 2017 by giving big contracts to hard-working, but non-star players like James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington instead of trying to free up cap space to chase a superstar. As a result, the Heat are capped out with a solid, but unspectacular roster.

Led by All-Star guard Goran Dragic, Waiters and underachieving center Hassan Whiteside, Miami should be good enough to hold on to a playoff position in the East, but if the Heat get off to a slow start, look for Riley to pursue trades to try to clean up the cap situation for a run at one of the elite free agents in the 2019 class.

3. Hornets: Michael Jordan decided to clean house after missing the playoffs last season, firing coach Steve Clifford and GM Rich Cho in favor of Spurs assistant James Borrego and fellow North Carolina alum Mitch Kupchak.

Problem is, the talent on the floor hasn't really been upgraded, although the Hornets did draft a couple intriguing prospects the last 2 years in Malik Monk and Miles Bridges. All-Star point guard Kemba Walker will be a free agent next summer, and wing players Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been mostly disappointing. Charlotte figures to post a mid-30's win total, leaving them a little short of playoff contention.

4. Magic: Another team looking for a fresh start, bringing Clifford in from Charlotte to try to improve the team's porous defense. Orlando added shot-blocking specialist Mo Bamba with the 5th pick in the draft, and power forward Aaron Gordon signed a near max deal to be the face of the franchise. But with ex-Bulls D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant currently penciled in to man the point guard position, it doesn't look like the Magic is ready to make a big jump this season.

5. Hawks: Safe to say, this looks like the worst roster in the league. Atlanta sports fans haven't exactly been passionate in support of this franchise, and outside of watching rookie Trae Young jack up three pointers, they don't figure to have a lot to cheer about this season. Young forwards John Collins and Taurean Prince are athletic players who will provide some high-flying highlights, but it's pretty obvious the biggest day on the Hawks' calendar will be the NBA draft lottery next May.

NBA Buzz: Top 3 teams in the East all in one division

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Top 3 teams in the East all in one division

With NBA players reporting to training camps in two weeks, it's time to take a closer look at how the division races stack up. Last month, we broke down where the Bulls stand in the new look (no LeBron) Central Division.

Now, here's a closer look at the Atlantic, featuring the top three teams in the East, Boston, Toronto and Philadelphia.

1. Celtics- Outside of finding enough minutes to keep all his talented players happy and productive, Brad Stevens shouldn't have many problems over the six-month NBA grind. With the return of All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injury, Stevens will have to decide whether to start all his best offensive players in a smaller lineup or bring third-year swingman Jaylen Brown off the bench.

Irving will have the ball in his hands most of the time as the point guard, and it will be interesting to see if he's willing to sacrifice his own personal numbers to create shots for Hayward, Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. Remember, Irving forced his way out of Cleveland because he wanted to be "the man" on a new team instead of playing in LeBron's considerable shadow. Now, after watching Tatum emerge as one of the breakout stars in last year's playoffs, will Irving be willing to take a back seat to a second-year player with superstar potential?

Irving will be a free agent at season's end, so any potential chemistry issues could impact his decision on whether to sign with Boston long-term. But would he really abandon a second championship contender? When you add in bench players like Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and Aron Baynes, the Celtics seem to have everything they need to make a run at the Finals this season.

2. Raptors- Toronto GM Masai Ujiri is going all-in on the 2018-19 season after trading All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan and back-up center Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio for disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard and veteran shooting guard Danny Green.

If Leonard is completely recovered from last season's mysterious quad injury and totally buys in to the Raptors' system under first-year coach Nick Nurse, he can be the best player in the Eastern Conference and give Toronto a real shot at beating Boston in a seven-game series. But if Leonard is already thinking about which team he's going to sign with as a free agent next summer, the whole team could crumble around him.

Remember, Toronto had the league's most productive second-unit a year ago, and they added veteran big man Greg Monroe to join returning reserves C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright and Fred Van Vleet. If Nurse can smoothly integrate the talents of Leonard and Green into a starting unit that also includes Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors are capable of winning around 55 games and making a run to the conference finals.

3. 76ers- You won't find many young duos better than Philly's Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. If those two players can stay healthy, they'll create nightmare match-ups for years to come, similar to what Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson did in L.A. during the 1980's. 76ers head coach Brett Brown will also welcome back veteran starters J.J. Redick, Dario Saric and Robert Covington, along with 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick Markelle Fultz, who reportedly has overcome the injuries and shooting slump that wrecked his rookie season.

The biggest question mark for Philly is replacing the shooting off the bench that was supplied by Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova last season. The 76ers traded for former DePaul star Wilson Chandler and drafted a pair of intriguing guards in Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet, but a lack of reliable bench depth could hold this talented young team back if injury problems arise.

4. Nets- Head coach Kenny Atkinson was able to get this team to play hard last season even though they were overmatched talent-wise in just about every game. Not a whole lot has changed with the roster, other than the addition of role-playing vets like Kenneth Faried, Jared Dudley, Darrell Arthur and Shabazz Napier.

Now that Brooklyn has control of all its draft picks again, they'll look forward to adding a lottery pick next summer and also plan to create enough cap room to pursue two max-level free agents. There's been talk of Irving and former Bulls' star Jimmy Butler shopping for a team to bring them both in during 2019 free agency, and the Nets will be in prime position to get that done.

5. Knicks- With All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis expected to miss most, if not all of the 2018-19 season, prospects for a turnaround season at Madison Square Garden are pretty bleak. The Knicks love what they saw from first round draft pick Kevin Knox during Summer League play, and second round big man Mitchell Robinson could wind up being the steal of the draft.

Still, it's hard to see new coach David Fizdale squeezing more than 30 wins out of this group unless some of the young guys emerge to help Tim Hardaway Jr. provide some consistent scoring.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

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NBA media members are having all kinds of fun with Tom Thibodeau trying to get the old Bulls' band back together in the Twin Cities. Luol Deng is the latest ex-Bull to sign on with the Timberwolves after negotiating a buyout with the Lakers on the four-year, $72 million contract he signed back in 2016.

Deng should be well-rested after playing in only one game last season, but it's kind of ironic he wound up in Minnesota considering many NBA analysts blame Thibodeau for shortening Deng's prime with the heavy minutes load he took on in Chicago.

Thibodeau has been trying to create the hard-working, defense first culture he had during his time with the Bulls, but bringing in past their prime veterans like Deng, Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson might only serve to alienate young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Thibs is sitting on a powder-keg as coach and head of basketball operations with the Timberwolves, and if his experiment fails, the roster will probably be blown up next summer.

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Remember when the Bulls were rumored to be interested in trading for Utah swingman Rodney Hood last winter? Hood went to Cleveland instead, and hurt his value as a restricted free agent with a sub-par showing for the Eastern Conference champs.

So, after watching fellow restricted free agents Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker, Clint Capela and Marcus Smart all sign huge contracts, Hood had to settle for a one-year, $3.4 million deal with the Cavs and a chance to increase his value going into unrestricted free agency next summer. Hood is a talented scorer with 3-point shooting range, but it will be interesting to see if he gets enough shot attempts with so many Cavs' players looking to grab a bigger role in the offense now that LeBron is gone. Cleveland is one of several NBA teams with serious bust potential if team chemistry goes south.

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Basketball fans in Phoenix are hoping for better things from their rebuilding team after the addition of No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton and Villanova swingman Mikal Bridges in the draft. Ayton told reporters he will team up with star shooting guard Devin Booker to form the next Shaq & Kobe tandem, but now they won't have a training camp together to work on their timing.

Booker missed the end of last season because of an injury to his shooting hand, and when the hand swelled up again recently, team doctors decided he would need surgery. Now, Booker is expected to miss at least six weeks of action, which could put him out of the line-up for the start of the regular season. The 21-year old has emerged as one of the league's best long range shooters, averaging 24.9 points per game last season on 38% shooting from 3 point range.

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Finally, keep an eye on what happens with Chicago native Anthony Davis if the Pelicans get off to a slow start this season. Davis fired his agent recently, and is considering signing on with Lebron James' long-time friend Rich Paul. That’s even more interesting when you consider the Lakers have a number of young players they could use in a potential trade for one of the NBA's top 5 players. Would Paul work behind the scenes to try to convince Davis to force a trade to L.A. to team up with James?

Davis still has two seasons, plus an option year left on the contract he signed in New Orleans and he's consistently said he enjoys the city and playing for the franchise. But if we've learned anything about the NBA in the free agency era, it's that star players have been known to change their minds, and when that happens, the futures of several teams can be impacted in the process.

You can count on the Lakers, Celtics and 76ers stepping up with aggressive trade offers if Davis decides he needs to leave New Orleans to have a serious chance to win a championship. Question is, does the 25-year old big man have any interest in coming home, and if he does, would the Bulls have the right combination of assets to get a deal done?

Davis becoming available in a trade would instantly trump the talented free agent class of 2019 in terms of potential impact on contending teams.

NBA Buzz: Timberwolves could be NBA's new 'drama' team in '18-'19

NBA Buzz: Timberwolves could be NBA's new 'drama' team in '18-'19

 
TIMBERWOLVES COULD BE NBA'S "DRAMA" TEAM IN 2018-19
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For those of us in the media who have covered Tom Thibodeau over the years, it's easy to conclude that the last thing Coach Thibs wants is an 82-game regular season filled with off the court drama.
 
Well, sorry Thibs, but it looks like that's exactly what you have to look forward to in the upcoming season.
 
The Timberwolves weren't exactly team harmony last season in making the playoffs for the first time since 2004. Jimmy Butler sent veiled comments through the media about his unhappiness with the work ethic of young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and the T-Wolves had to go down to the final day to squeeze into the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff field.
 
Now, with the start of training camps less than a month away, an article on Bleacher Report last weekend suggested Butler is already looking towards L.A. and signing with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent next summer. That should come as no surprise to Bulls' fans who read annually about Butler's summer workouts in L.A. and his love for that city. Plus, teaming up with LeBron James and the Lakers' talented young core looks like an attractive option for all of the top 2019 free agents.
 
Which leads us back to Thibs, who is already bracing for the inevitable questions at the start of training camp. Thibodeau told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he's not concerned about the Butler rumors, saying winning will take care of all that. Thibs told the Star-Tribune, “I’ve been around a long time; I don’t buy into any of that stuff. You have to distinguish what’s real and what’s not real. You never heard any of that come from Jimmy’s mouth. It’s always a source close to Jimmy. If Jimmy has something to say to someone, he usually says it directly."
 
If he hasn't done it already, you can bet Thibodeau plans to sit down with Butler before training camp to find out exactly what his star player is thinking. Butler already passed on signing a contract extension with the Timberwolves this summer because he can make a lot more money by waiting until he becomes a free agent next year.
 
Even though it makes perfect sense financially, Butler's decision still had to make Thibodeau and Wolves’ ownership more than a little nervous. They're already stuck with the max extension they gave to Wiggins last year, and now All-Star center Towns is suggesting he wants to have a heart-to-heart talk with the front office about some of his concerns before signing a max extension.
 
Thibodeau has never been the easiest coach to play for, and if both Towns and Butler are seriously thinking about finding a better situation, the plan to build a contending team in the Twin Cities could unravel very quickly. Odds are good Towns will get the assurances he seeks from the front office and sign the max contract offer, which star players coming out of their rookie deals have rarely, if ever, passed on. But Butler's looming free agency will cast a huge shadow over everything the team is trying to accomplish this season, and in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, a lack of team chemistry could send the Timberwolves careening back into the lottery.
 
Keep your eyes on Minneapolis this season. It figures to be a very entertaining show.
 
AROUND THE ASSOCIATION
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It's the end of an era in San Antonio with Manu Ginobili announcing his retirement earlier this week after 16 seasons. Ginobili was a part of four championship teams with the Spurs, and he combined with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker to win more games (575) than any other trio in league history. 
 
Ginobili came to the NBA at the age of 25 after establishing himself as one of the best players in Europe, and had to work hard to earn the confidence of coach Gregg Popovich and many of the veteran players on the Spurs' roster. But once he figured out to assimilate his unique skill-set into the San Antonio system, Ginobili became a key component in the San Antonio run of championships.
 
Manu's ability to score in a variety of ways, along with a fierce competitive mentality earned him respect from coaches and fellow players around the league. Now, he retires at the age of 41 as a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
 
With Duncan also retired and Parker now in Charlotte, things won't be quite the same in San Antonio. The Spurs never did get the back-to-back championships some analysts require in defining pro sports dynasties, but it's hard to argue with five championships in the span of 16 seasons.
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Speaking of championships, are the Celtics poised to add to their NBA-leading total of 17? GM Danny Ainge told ESPN's Chris Forsberg both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are ready for full-scale 5-on-5 work, and will begin training camp without any limitations.
 
Adding a healthy Irving and Hayward to the team that took Cleveland to Game 7 of the Conference Finals last season makes Boston the favorite to win the East this time around. The biggest challenge for head coach Brad Stevens will be finding the best rotation to utilize all the weapons on his roster. Should he start 3rd year wing Jaylen Brown or use him as a high-scoring 6th man? Do the Celtics go big up front with Aron Baynes, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum, or let Tatum play the four, with Hayward and Brown at the wing spots. And, what's the best way to utilize impact guards Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier off the bench?
 
Any way you look at it, the Celtics are loaded and ready to take full advantage of the LeBron-less East.
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I hope you'll check out our latest Bulls Talk Podcast for my conversation with Bucks' radio analyst Dennis Krause. New Bucks' coach Mike Budenholzer will try to blend free agent additions Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Muhammad, along with 1st round draft pick Donte DiVincenzo into an athletic young core led by 2nd team All-NBA forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. If Budenholzer can get this talented group to buy into the share the wealth system that produced a 60-win season in Atlanta, the Bucks could challenge Philadelphia and Indiana for a No. 3 seed in the East behind conference heavyweights Boston and Toronto.
 
Krause also offered an encouraging take on Bulls’ new addition Jabari Parker, who played his first four NBA seasons in Milwaukee. Krause says when Parker is fully engaged he's full capable of playing solid defense, and he still has the scoring skill that made the 2nd overall pick in the 2014 draft. Even after two ACL surgeries on his left knee, Parker's explosiveness was evident in the playoff series against Boston last spring, and Krause tells Bulls' fans the former Simeon star could be primed for a big season in his return to Chicago.
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Finally, in case you missed it, the NBA has abolished the uniform code for sneakers in the upcoming season. Players will now be able to express themselves with any type of color or design they prefer, no matter how badly their shoe choice might clash with the team's color scheme. The only restrictions involve the use of 3rd party logos, protruding objects, or reflective elements like gleaming chrome.
 
Michael Jordan had a big influence in bringing color to the NBA's shoe game back in the 80's. Now, the choices will only be limited by the imagination of the players and their shoe companies.