The idea that Chicago was an ideal destination for Dwyane Wade and LeBron James always seemed more like conjecture and a kind nod to Wade’s hometown more than something that was actually possible in 2010.
But on the eve of James’ first visit to Chicago, as the Cavs come into town for a preseason game Friday night, Wade said a Chicago union was a lot closer to fruition than many believed.
“Chris Bosh effect,” Wade said, referring to the third member of Miami’s Big Three that won two championships in four years, making the Finals every season from 2011 to 2014. “(Miami) Had the opportunity for us three to play together and we both separately really wanted to play for Chris Bosh. It was gonna be kind of a sense where Chicago could’ve got two players and it probably was going to be LeBron and Chris or me and Chris.”
Wade took multiple visits as a free agent in July to Chicago, leading many to believe he would join a team coming off two first-round exits but presenting a core of a young and healthy Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng.
Having already won a championship in Miami, Wade had designs on helping his favorite team return to glory—and bringing James with him. Considering the villain role both took with Bulls fans in the years after, picturing them here in their primes is a tantalizing but weird thought.
“I mean, this is a place I wanted to play,” Wade said. “It was a place LeBron also loved. We loved the city of Chicago. It’s a great market as well. Obviously, the sunny sun of Miami is great too. We had two great choices. It pretty much boiled down to what we felt we could build.”
The Bulls just hired away a promising assistant from Boston named Tom Thibodeau, and were marked as a top free-agent destination.
“Chicago was very tempting from a standpoint of what they had on the roster when it came to young talent,” Wade said. “But when it came to the point Miami was able to get three players, that changed the whole dynamic of the summer.”
“But I know LeBron’s eyes were here. I know my eyes were here. I know Chris’ eyes were kind of everywhere because he was in Toronto so he was just happy that people knew who he was (laughs). Toronto was a little different than it is today.”
Wade chuckles at the conspiracy theories that the three always planned on signing together in Miami back when they signed short-term extensions in the summer of 2006.
“Crazy notion. I wish we were that smart,” Wade said. “Thank you for the credit for seeing in the future. We knew what the money would be like, we knew that the Miami Heat would have it. It makes no sense. How did we know the Heat could afford 3 players? How did we have an idea in 2006 or whenever they said we would have this plan that the Miami Heat would be able to do this? I never thought me and LeBron would play together.”
“It was a question posed to me, y'all can ask, (Heat owner) Micky Arison asked me a year or two before, you think LeBron would like to come to Miami? I said "you got a 0.000001 percent chance" it was a powerful .1 percent because he ended up coming but I had no idea, I never thought about it, besides All-Star games and Olympics, I never thought about the NBA, taking the same court. But when it presented itself, you open it up, you start the conversation, you start looking at it a little different. Thank everybody for thinking we were that smart but this kind of happened when it happened.”
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The Bulls had the cap space to sign two max players that summer, and apparently were in negotiations with the Los Angeles Clippers to trade Deng to free up even more money, especially as the Bulls got word the Heat had three salary slots opening up to fit the top three free agents on the market.
According to published reports at the time, a Deng trade would’ve given the Bulls nearly $30 million in cap space and had it happened, Wade said, “It would be a different story. We thought about it. That didn’t happen. It was something they talked about. They were very open with us with what they were trying to do.”
From a talent standpoint, perhaps the Bulls would’ve been better equipped to acquire a then-27 year old Wade, who averaged nearly 27 points to go with 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds along with James, the 25-year old two-time reigning MVP.
How Wade, James and Rose would’ve fit together certainly seemed like a cluster, especially considering Rose’s star was on the rise, approaching a year where he was the youngest MVP winner in NBA history.
Seeing how Wade and James struggled to figure out how to play together the first year in Miami wouldn’t have compared to the issues if their point guard was just as aggressive on offense.
“So you’re already talking two guys who are ball dominant,” Wade said. “And then you have a young up-and-coming star in the league who is ball dominant. At that time, I don’t think it would’ve worked out for us. We took our two ball-dominant selves away from having three guys as ball dominant.”
But when Miami GM Pat Riley orchestrated the pieces to free up that third salary cap slot, that’s when the Heat took the lead and signed the free agents, leaving Chicagoans to wonder “what if” every time they saw Wade in a Heat uniform since.