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Dwyane Wade’s Chicago basketball dreams come full-circle in Saturday farewell

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USA TODAY

Dwyane Wade’s Chicago basketball dreams come full-circle in Saturday farewell

It’s impossible to tell Dwyane Wade’s basketball story without including Chicago.

Though the 12-time All-Star, three-time NBA champion created a legacy in Miami, his hometown and the first organization he ever cheered for has been intertwined in that story from Day 1. From his early beginnings as child growing up in Chicago to Saturday’s farewell tour stopping at the United Center, Wade’s hometown has played an integral role in his journey from cheering on Michael Jordan to joining His Airness as one of the NBA’s all-time great shooting guards.

He's no longer Flash, the lightning quick, spry shooting guard with unmatched pound-for-pound strength. But the 37-year-old Wade saved some of his best for last in Saturday's win over the Bulls. He finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 27 minutes. It felt like vintage Wade at times, as the Oak Lawn native scored on a few stepbacks, floaters and cuts to the basket similar to the ones that made him one of the game's best for more than a decade.

Wade's final United Center memory comes 16 seasons after his first one. A 22-year-old Wade was nursing a right wrist and had planned to sit out his first visit to the United Center in December 2003.

That changed when he saw his childhood hero Michael Jordan the night before the game.

“(Jordan’s) like, ‘I can’t wait to see you play tomorrow.’ And I was like, ‘Welp, guess I’m playing,’” Wade said prior to Saturday's game. “And then I end up being in a cast for like two months after that.”

Wade scored just 10 points in 36 minutes that night, but playing was never in doubt. Wade grew up idolizing Jordan, one of the millions of kids who grew up in Chicago watching the 90s Bulls hang banner after banner. He joined fellow Chicagoans like Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette, and a young Derrick Rose, as inner city kids who looked up to Jordan as inspiration to get out of the city and make something of themselves.

"Growing up in the inner city, to make it out to be a vision of hope for the next generation, we take a lot of pride in that," Wade said. "And to come back and give back and hopefully give others opportunity to be successful,l but also just for people in the city of Chicago to see that it can be done, you can get out. A lot of us had a ball and a dream and that ball has taken us so many places."

After a successful career at Richards High School and a three-year stint at Marquette that included a Final Four run, Chicago basketball took Wade to Miami. Beginning with that first game at the United Center in 2003, the hometown kid became a thorn in the Bulls' side for the next 13 seasons. He knocked the Bulls out of the postseason three different times, including twice on the way to championships in 2006 and 2013, and the famous Eastern Conference Finals in 2011.

That stretch also included Wade spurning the Bulls in the infamous summer of 2011 when it appeared he and close friend LeBron James were close to signing in Chicago. Instead Wade opted to remain in Miami and bring James and Chris Bosh with him. The consolation prize for the Bulls was $76 million Carlos Boozer and a front row seat to Miami's four-year reign in the Eastern Conference that included four Finals appearances and two championships.

Wade signed on the dotted line four years later, inking a two-year deal with the Bulls that was as much financially motivated as it was a chance to play for the hometown team. Wade's fit in Chicago was always an interesting one for both sides that never really worked, and it ultimately ended in his buyout in the months after the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler and entered a rebuild.

But Wade's impact on his hometown team was evident.

In the 70-second video tribute the Bulls ran for Wade during the first quarter of Saturday's game, there was as much footage of Wade doing work in the community with the Dwyane Wade Foundation and Spotlight On as there was highlights of his time on the floor. Though Wade couldn't help push the Bulls to greater heights in his lone year in Chicago, his 18.3 points at age 35 largely go overlooked because of the chaos that went on in the locker room that season.

Wade latched on with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers after his buyout in 2017, and he returned to Chicago in unceremonious fashion, scoring 24 points in a December blowout victory.

That was nothing compared to what Wade experienced on Saturday, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd of 20,926 following the video tribute, and a chorus of cheers each time he entered the game. If not for cheering on a Chicago legend, the fans recognized one of the all-time greats that, for better and worse, has a chapter in the history of Chicago basketball.

Wade has made a dozen farewell tours this season, but none quite like what happened in his hometown. It was the fitting end to a career - a lifetime, really - that has featured numerous Chicago memories.

"I have more of a connection here than anywhere else," he said after the game. "It's my birth city. It's the place where my vision to become an NBA player started, watching my favorite team and watching my favorite players growing up. It definitely felt different than any other city but it was a good different. It was a joyous time for me to be here."

Wade has become the Michael Jordan of Miami. No one will ever wear No. 3 in a Heat uniform again, Wade will have a statue somewhere outside American Airlines arena and he’ll join the all-time greats in Springfield, Mass., as a Hall of Famer in 2024.

He’s created a legacy in Miami, but for so many reasons Chicago will always be part of his basketball story.

“This city, this Chicago Bulls name, it means a lot to me," he said. "It will always mean a lot to me.”

Bulls mailbag: Will ownership or management make any in-season changes?

Bulls mailbag: Will ownership or management make any in-season changes?

The Bulls might lead the league in moral victories. Unfortunately for them, those don’t count in the standings. And so a season that began with playoff aspirations has led to a flooded inbox.

The Bulls have consistently been one of the top teams in attendance across the league, albeit with one of the largest capacities among NBA arenas. With the recent reporting on the dip of attendance at the United Center, do you see this metric getting through to the Reinsdorfs on the current state of the Bulls? Is it a measure being talked about internally that could lead to change? - Hugo M.

I also received a question via Twitter from T.K. asking if Mr. Reinsdorf is “feeling the pressure” from the dipping attendance. Pressure may be overstating matters, but it absolutely is being talked about internally. It has caught the Reinsdorfs’ attention. How could it not? The Bulls have finished first or second in attendance in 16 of the previous 19 seasons. This season also is the third straight they’ve ranked outside the top-10 in capacity, which hadn’t happened since 2003-04. Coincidentally, that’s the first season in which John Paxson had taken over for Jerry Krause, whom most fans thought Reinsdorf would never touch. But five seasons of rebuilding and two straight in which the Bulls ranked ninth and fifth in attendance — and 13th in capacity —  finally led to change.

Will it happen again? Only the Reinsdorfs know. Obviously, if the losing and sagging attendance continues throughout the season, changes would be on the table.

When will the Bulls make a change at head coach and the front office? Will they ride this out the rest of the year or do something midseason? Because they have to do something, right? – Tim G.

This season does feel different because everyone from ownership to management to Jim Boylen publicly stated progress would be made. Playoffs were even publicly set as the goal. And at the very least, competitive basketball was to be expected. At least the Bulls finally are showing signs of that. However, playoffs certainly feel like a longshot.

I’ve heard no talk of in-season changes. The Bulls just tried that last year. And remember: They’re still paying Fred Hoiberg this season, although his $5 million salary is offset by almost half thanks to him landing a job with Nebraska. Boylen is one of the lowest-paid coaches in the league. So if ownership and management concluded after this season that he’s not the right fit anymore, his salary isn’t prohibitive to swallow. But I wouldn’t expect such determinations to come from ownership on management and management on coaching until after the season.

In your sitdown with team president Michael Reinsdorf earlier this year, he stated that he doesn't like the term "GarPax" and that Gar Forman and John Paxson are "individuals" and have "different roles.”  However, his quotes in the article don't really spell out the differences and in fact he says "Gar and John" twice.  Can you help clarify?  I ask because at some point, the Bulls will need to make a coaching change (god bless Jim Boylen and his lame coaching speak, but the writing is on the wall). And I presume at some point, the Reinsdorfs will say to themselves: “We can't let the same people pick a third coach?”  Is the hiring of a coach a Gar decision?  A Pax decision? Somebody actually makes the decisions right?  Constant change (see Knicks) is ridiculous and unproductive, but at some point the fans do need some change, even if it’s for change's sake. Grasping for some kind of hope here, but will they ever get new blood in the front office ever? Or is this it? This can't be it can it? This is probably it. - Nit B.

Your angst, and humor, is palpable.

Also, I’m not sure where you’re getting picking a third coach. This management team has hired five, although Vinny Del Negro was largely seen as an ownership hire after a tortuous process that featured top choices Mike D’Antoni and Doug Collins not working out for various reasons.

The reason Michael referred to them as “Gar and John” is that, while their day-to-day duties are different, all major organizational decisions are made with input from all the top decision-makers. Forman focuses on scouting and talking to agents and other executives throughout the season. Paxson focuses on setting the culture, big-picture items and is around the team more.

For coaching hires, it’s my understanding that the two Reinsdorfs, Forman and Paxson all talk it out and reach a consensus. That said, Hoiberg is largely viewed as endorsed and pushed by Forman, while Boylen had strong support from Paxson and ownership.

You asked a lot of questions but to answer one: Yes, somebody actually makes the decisions. And those largely are reached by debate and discussion and consensus. As for new blood, let’s see how the season concludes. As mentioned above, if this losing and sagging attendance continue, changes have to be on the table.

You’ve been around the block a few times. Where does Boylen rank in terms of hatred from the fanbase? There’s been a few incompetent coaches this franchise has had. - Jay R.

As Louden Wainwright III once sang, “hate is a strong word/I wanna backtrack/the bigger the front/the bigger the back.” But I digress.

It’s always difficult to paint with broad brushstrokes. Yes, I receive plenty of dislike for Boylen via emails or @s on Twitter. I also see some support. At least in my little world, the dislike outweighs the support. But to answer your question, I’m now up to eight head coaches covered, not counting the other Jim Boylan who served as an interim head coach.

Here are your requested (subjective) rankings, from beloved to frustrated: Phil Jackson; Tom Thibodeau; Scott Skiles; Bill Cartwright; Fred Hoiberg; Vinny Del Negro; Jim Boylen; Tim Floyd.

Some brief elaboration: The first three won so they should be self-explanatory. Cartwright was such a decent man and had some leftover goodwill from winning three titles as a player that he ranks ahead of coaches who directed playoff teams. The reason Hoiberg, who had one playoff season, ranks ahead of Del Negro, who had two, is because a lot of the fan feedback I received during Hoiberg’s tenure is that he wasn’t given the proper personnel to fit his style. Boylen and Floyd have lost a lot, so they should be self-explanatory, too.

One last thing about coaching: The NBA is a players league. Coaching is important, obviously. But a lot of success or failure comes down to the rosters. Give Floyd a roster with Michael Jordan and maybe he doesn’t rank so low.

How bad does it have to get for the Bulls to realize they have no chance at making the playoffs? If the realization comes, then what? I don’t see any sort of path forward for this team that involves a title or even competing in the near future. Could they really blow it up again? It seems to be the only way towards a title but I’m thinking that would take the Reinsdorfs clearing house. Unfortunately, it is a bleak future and a long road no matter how you look at.  - Ben V.

This dynamic has my antennae and intrigue up as well, less so for coaching or management changes and more for the roster. If the Bulls don’t right the ship and at least start playing more competitively in the next month, are they active sellers at the February trade deadline? Remember: They traded Jimmy Butler and fully believed at least two of the three players they received in return could approach All-Star status. To this point, that hasn’t happened.

Through a very soft part of the schedule, the team is on pace for 26 wins. There have been no meaningful improvements from our vaunted “core” and from a cap perspective we are basically locked into this roster through the 2021 season when OPJ (he will 100% pick up his option, you can’t convince me otherwise) and Felicio are off the books  Can ownership in good faith really run this front office, coaching staff, and roster out there for 100 more games over the next season and a half? How many front office groups get a chance to rebuild from their own disastrous attempt at a rebuild gone fully off the rails? - A frustrated fan on the edge, Nick, Glen Ellyn

This ties into management’s future and is again a dynamic that has me intrigued. As I’ve reported countless times, the reason ownership has so much faith in this management team is because it watched it flip over a roster inherited from Krause (save for two players) and turn it into the well-liked and perennial playoff teams of Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. Then, after one disastrous season, management walked into Derrick Rose and had that team on track to compete for titles until Rose’s torn ACL. So whether fans like to hear it or not, ownership believed in management’s ability to construct a competitive roster when starting over. That’s why this season has been so disappointing to this point. And it’s also why, if this disappointment continues, it will be fascinating to see what comes next. After all, ownership, management and Boylen all are on record as saying this season would be different.

With how pathetically thin the Bulls are on the wing, why hasn’t Boylen tried Thad Young there? It seems like he would be quick enough to make it work in spots and Young absolutely needs more minutes than the 21 or so he is averaging per game this season. – Nick P.

Boylen said he and his staff discussed this possibility and that Boylen also talked to Young about it. But it hasn’t happened. Dunn has played well as a starter and Denzel Valentine has revived his rotational role. But Young is playing the second-fewest minutes of his career. And while he knew he didn’t sign here to start because of Markkanen, he also thought he’d be playing more. Young is as professional as they come, but he has shared his desire to play more with several in the organization. He logged a season-high in minutes on Wednesday.

Taking into account the way the Bulls have been playing, and now the news that Otto Porter Jr. is going to be out at least another month, it looks like this season is going to be a total disaster. It’s beginning to look like the Bulls should throw in the towel and try to salvage the season by readying itself for next season. Since we won’t be able to attract any top free agent next year, it seems the next best thing would be to move some of our players who don’t show any signs of being well-balanced players. That includes Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaq Harrison, Kris Dunn and Kornet. Is it possible to trade any or all of those players for an early second-round pick next year? We’d be far better off if we lucked into a player who can make as much of an impact on the game as Daniel Gafford is now doing. I’m not suggesting that we move any of the core, but I’m not necessarily against it if it brought us one true All-Star player next season. Perhaps Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen for a top 10-20 type player. It’s evident that the Bulls will have to make some moves soon to move the franchise in the right direction. The status quo will not work. Especially if management stands behind Boylen. - Rick L

Only Kris Dunn would have any value of the non-core players you mentioned (and as an aside, wasn’t he recently part of the core?). And his value would be minimal. Over the summer, it was even less but he has played well and might be able to bring back a back-end rotation player or a heavily-protected first-round pick. LaVine and Markkanen wouldn’t bring back an All-Star level player.

And therein lies the rub: If Porter opts in, which is likely, this roster almost certainly will look similar next season. The Bulls have little flexibility next offseason. This is why the Bulls banked on LaVine and Markkanen taking big jumps that, to this point, haven’t happened.

It’s been good to see a more aggressive Lauri Markkanen the last few games. How much do you think his struggles have been on him versus the system Boylen wants to play? – Matt A., Australia

Why can’t it be both? I do think Markkanen struggled early with being mostly relegated to a stationary 3-point shooter. He also missed a ton of open looks, which is on him. With the equal opportunity, multi ball-handler system, Markkanen often faded to the shadows. Again, that’s on both him and the system. Then it became somewhat mental for him. To Boylen’s credit, he has used sets designed to get Markkanen on the move more of late and Markkanen has started to respond.

In your last mailbag, you answered two questions to someone who endured being a ballboy during the Ron Mercer days. I am the same age, and I'm hoping I can get a couple questions answered myself because I survived those days as well as a fan---without the benefit of being the ballboy. It feels like those years all over again right now. The roster might be a little better, but records aren't much better between the teams. “Through thick and thin” was the slogan I remember growing up with as a Bulls fan having just missed the Jordan years. So many things that can be asked about the year so far, so I'll stick to just two for now.

It seemed like Boylen might have let it slip about Lauri having an oblique issue. Lauri's well-documented struggles have been one of bigger storylines I feel Bulls have had this year, and Lauri has been able to keep quiet for the most part it seems on his end. His responses in postgame questions from the meeting haven't generated as much buzz as some of LaVine's interviews. Did Boylen let it slip about his injury, or is there something different to how the Bulls are handling injuries this year?

Secondly, what should fans ACTUALLY make from the struggling attendance? Videos/pictures of empty upper bowl are becoming aplenty on Twitter. Social media makes it easy to gather fans ready for a drastic change within the organization, but how can we expect the organization to respond, if at all, to the struggling attendance at home games?– J. Boa

Anyone who remembers THAT slogan gets two questions, although I already answered your second above. I barely remember that slogan and I covered that era.

Markkanen's oblique issue never landed on the injury report. The injury report is a sensitive topic because most every player has some sort or bump or bruise at this point of the season. Do you list everybody and then list them as probable? That's the approach the Bulls seemed to take last game as nine players landed on the report, including most with minor ailments and listed as probable. Markkanen has four 20-point games this month. He's coming around and the oblique talk will be in the background here.

What does the K.C. stand for? Steven R., via Twitter

Kenneth Carl. But you can call me K.C.

Actually, I don’t mind Kenneth Carl and my college basketball teammates call me Kenny Carl. But I’ve been called K.C. my entire life. My parents were hip to the initials from Day One.

As this "improved" roster has scuttled through the light part of the schedule at basically the same winning percentage as last year (8 wins in 25 = .32, 27 of 82 in 2018 = .329), how likely does it seem that the Bulls will actually win less games this year? Mike K., via Twitter

Can they play the Hawks more? That would be something if it happens, particularly after how widely praised their offseason moves were and the public posturing for improvement by the organization. I still think the Bulls are better than their record indicates. I picked them for 36 wins before the season. But, yes, any way you analyze it, this season has been a disappointment.

Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.

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In shutting down Trae Young, Kris Dunn showcased the spectrum of his value

In shutting down Trae Young, Kris Dunn showcased the spectrum of his value

Trae Young is one of the most dynamic basketball players on the planet — he’s currently the fifth-leading scorer in the NBA (27.9 points), a 37.6% 3-point shooter (on 8.9 attempts per game) and a transcendent facilitator in the halfcourt and open floor. Some would be daunted, faced with such an adversary (especially given his recent history against the Bulls).

Not Kris Dunn, who took lead responsibilities guarding Young in the Bulls’ 136-102 drubbing of the Hawks, Wednesday night. For him, it was just another game.

“Nah, not at all,” Dunn said when asked if matching up with Young provided him with extra motivation. “It's part of the game. I'm guarding the best player, I'm motivated for all of it. That's what I want. I want the best player. I wanna see what I got. I like the competitiveness of it.

“My job is to guard the best player on the other team. Since I've been starting, I've guarded Buddy [Hield], D'Angelo [Russell], Jimmy [Butler], Trae. You look at the tape, I've been doing a good job,” Dunn said.

Young finished his night with 15 points on 4-for-14 shooting (1-for-6 from 3-point range), seven turnovers and 13 assists. That assist figure is a gaudy one, but Dunn hounded Young — on-the-ball, over screens, everywhere he turned — all night, and clearly shook his rhythm with every poke, bump and step. Of Young’s seven turnovers, two were straight steals by Dunn:

 

“KD takes the challenge and has great respect for Young. Tries to fight him all over the floor,” Jim Boylen said. “He's a good player, man. But KD's a good player, too. KD's a top-level defender in this league.”

That sentiment permeates the Bulls’ locker room. Dunn’s defensive energy does, too. 

“He puts a lot of pressure on the ball. I just know from my personal experience playing against him, you have to be very careful, because he has quick hands,” Tomas Satoransky said after Wednesday morning shootaround. “I think the offense feels very crowded with him on the ball. So I think that's a very strong point that he brings to that starting lineup.” 

“Everybody knows on this team, I take a lot of pride in my defense. You know, I try to anchor it,” Dunn said. “And I think my defensive energy allows everybody else to put their hard hat on and guard, too.”

Since Nov. 27, the Bulls sport the third-ranked defense in the league (with a 102.4 rating). Dunn’s first game in the starting lineup? Nov. 29 in Portland, two days after Chandler Hutchison suffered a shoulder injury that has rendered him inactive ever since.

And even in spite of his offensive deficiencies — Dunn is currently shooting 19.3% from 3-point range — his greatest skill, stealing the basketball, opens up the area of the Bulls’ offense in which they’re at their most efficient: transition. 

Per Cleaning the Glass, 17.3% of the Bulls’ overall possessions come in transition (fourth-highest in the NBA), and they turn 66.5% of their steals into transition plays (ninth in the NBA). The Bulls score 127.0 points per 100 transition plays, 144.8 when said possessions come off steals (those figures rank 8h and 7th in the NBA respectively).

“When we play in transition, I think that's when we're at our best. And in order to get in transition you gotta get stops,” Dunn said. “We got a lot of athletes, a lot of young guys who can get up the floor, and that's what we gotta do.”

Dunn is tied for third in the NBA in steals per game with two. The Bulls, as a team, lead the league in steals per game (9.6) and opponent turnovers per game (18.4).

“He's a ballhawk,” Zach LaVine said of Dunn. “He's gonna make it tough on ’em. I think the dude can mess around and be a first team all-defensive player.”

That idea is also not an uncommon one around the Bulls. Dunn, himself, admits to aspiring to that level of acclaim. 

“I feel like I'm a top defender in this league, and I take pride in it, and I should… Do you see a lot of defenders do what I'm doing? What I do is a little different,” he said with a grin. “But nah, all jokes aside, you know, that's one of my goals. That's always gonna be one of my goals until I get on there.”

LaVine and Dunn both stressed, though, that team success is requisite to any individual recognition. That’s the priority, above all. For now, Dunn remains indelibly confident and secure in his role. The Bulls need him to be. 

“I'm just going with the flow, you know, whatever the coaching staff needs from me, the team needs from me, I'm gonna go out there and do it,” Dunn said. “I tell people this all the time, I'm a [Swiss Army Knife]. I can do a little bit of everything.

“I'm not worried about where you put me on the floor. I'm a hooper, Imma go out there and hoop.”

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