As the success of the “Big Three” model overtakes the NBA, the ruins of the most recent failed attempt leave questions about what comes next. 12-time All-Star Dwyane Wade is the lone remaining piece in Chicago from the Bulls’ failed “Three Alphas” experiment last season after Jimmy Butler was traded to Minnesota and Rajon Rondo signed with New Orleans this summer, and the 35-year-old’s time in The Windy City seems to be drawing to a close even though Wade is still under contract with the team through the end of next season.
There’s “widespread belief” that a buyout with Wade, who’s set to earn $23.8 million this year, will get worked out by the end of the season, according to ESPN and if the three-time champ makes his way onto the open market, he’ll have his fair share of suitors.
A Heat reunion in South Beach is enticing and would tie a nice bow on Wade’s Hall-of-Fame career in the place where he played 13 seasons — there’s also still a key waiting for Wade under the mat at American Airlines Arena. Another go around with LeBron James in Cleveland, especially because it would likely be for just one season would make sense as well. As would a chance to play for Greg Popovich in San Antonio, someone Wade’s respected and admired over his NBA tenure. Same goes for Doc Rivers, who’s held in high regard among NBA players, and the Clippers could use another able body in their backcourt.
Another city where Wade could look to take his talents to is Denver. Wade chose his hometown Bulls over the Nuggets in 2016 but Denver’s brass “really sold Wade” on their vision for the organization. Fast-forward one season and the Nuggets are an even more attractive landing spot if Wade gets bought out than they were a year ago.
Michael Malone, the coach Wade took a liking to after his free-agent meeting with the Nuggets in 2016, is still drawing up the X’s and O’s. Nikola Jokic, who was just a fun, intriguing center a year ago is suddenly one of the premier young building blocks in the entire league and someone that players around the league recognize and want to play with. Gary Harris and Paul Millsap round out a core that should be playoff-bound — that’s a much different outlook than at this time last year.
Wade is well past his prime at 35, but he’s coming off a season where he averaged 18.3 points on roughly 43 percent shooting from the field. Wade had the second-best shooting season of his career from three and as always, kept his status as one of the league’s premier steal-getters. Even in a crowded backcourt that could still look different when for Denver’s regular season opener in Utah on Oct. 18, Wade can help the Nuggets.
As one of the better cutters and off-ball movers of his generation, it’s incredible that Wade was able to keep that up to an extent in Chicago last season on a roster without any really creative passers, and a lack of spacing at times.
Sure, Wade has always been a high-usage player throughout his career, and he was again last season in Chicago. His 29.3 percent usage rate was the highest on the Bulls and the 13th-highest in the league. That would be a concern coming into a crowded rotation in Denver but Wade’s skill off the ball, which is becoming a prerequisite to play in the Nuggets’ offense, would help him thrive next to Jokic.
Wade’s a premier baseline cutter, something Harris, who was the first player in Denver to realize how to capitalize off of Jokic’s vision and basketball IQ, developed into last season. There’s space to make those same cuts that he made last season in Chicago and throughout his career in Miami in Denver with the Nuggets’ spacing and Jokic operating from the high post or top of the arc.
The Nuggets offense is so that if they were to incorporate a high-touch player like Wade, they’d need him to be someone who can fit seamlessly into their flow. Someone who’s mastered the art of basketball and knows where to be and how to space the floor. Wade possesses all of those qualities. He also loves to get out in transition, could be on the receiving end of a patented full-court heave from Jokic — the best quarterback in Denver — and is still one of the league’s most creative half court improvisers.
Role and impact
If Wade comes to Denver, it will largely be because of the relationship he established with the organization during last summer’s recruitment period. There are simply other options out there, like Miami, who’s likely the leader in the clubhouse for his services, and Cleveland, where he could have a more prominent role.
But with the Nuggets, Wade would team with Millsap to form a playoff tested and veteran duo that can carry a younger core to a potential second-round postseason series. A closing lineup of Wade, Harris, Chandler, Millsap, and Jokic is experienced, versatile, and solid defensively. Wade’s also another shot-maker, a closer, and someone who’s taken and made big shots in playoff — an underrated skill that gets magnified in the postseason.
His Team USA connections and upper echelon standing among NBA circles would give Denver more clout among the rest of the league with Wade’s services and give Denver a chance at landing bigger free agents next summer. Wade would likely be penciled in for around 25 minutes per night (assuming the Nuggets thin out their rotation before the seasons starts), which is five less per game than he played last season and fewer than he’d get in Miami, but open layups and dunks via Jokic is a pretty fun and easy way to play basketball. Nuggets players slowly but surely realized that last season, as did Millsap this summer.
Wade will ultimately have to decide what type of role he wants if he’s bought out in Chicago, but Denver, with their history of engagement with Wade, could be a logical landing spot.