Top Potential Landing Spots for Dwyane Wade After Buyout
What happens when a future Hall of Famer suddenly splashes into the NBA's free agency pool? Exactly what you'd expect.
Even with his best basketball days behind him, Wade remains a highly coveted commodity. Last season was perhaps the least productive of his career, and he still averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals—a stat line matched by only five other players, all of them All-Stars.
In other words, he's earned the right to be picky about his next employer.
"What it's about for me is looking at the right role," Wade told Johnson. "I feel I can still play."
But minutes aren't the only appeal. The ability to contend for a title should be a big consideration, and it's never smart to discount the market in which a player will live.
There isn't a perfect situation that checks off every box, but the following six teams would all make varying degrees of sense.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the "clear favorites" to sign Wade, sources told ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst. Another insider close to LeBron James told Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon he expects Wade will find his way to Northeast Ohio.
This should surprise no one. The Cavs have essentially everything that could be on Wade's wish list. The 35-year-old could fill a significant role and compete for an NBA title, all while rejoining a friend—and recent workout buddy—so close that mutual associates say, "They're like twins," per ESPN.com's Pablo S. Torre.
With Kyrie Irving gone and Isaiah Thomas hobbled, Cleveland could use another shot creator for when James sits (they were 16.2 points worse per 100 possessions without him). Even with Wade in his twilight, that's still a comfortable assignment for him. Last season, he was one of 26 players to average at least 18 points and 3.5 assists, and he ran the 22nd-most isolation plays, which the Cavs utilize more than anyone.
But the basketball fit isn't perfect. At this point, there's a lot of overlap between the skill sets of Wade and Cleveland newcomer Derrick Rose. The lack of shooting between them would make it tricky to share the floor. And when the Cavs are full strength, playing Wade in critical spots might hurt if it means being without J.R. Smith's sniping or Jae Crowder's versatile defense.
Still, if Cleveland wants to wager that the shared talents and basketball savvy of Wade and James could figure this out, who would really argue against it?
Last season, the Houston Rockets had the Association's third-best win total (55) and net efficiency rating (plus-5.4). They have since added Wade's banana-boat buddy Chris Paul and reinforced their leaky defense.
Oh, and the backcourt is wafer-thin behind Paul, James Harden and 2016-17 Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon. Current depth chart projections show only Tim Quarterman (16 career games), Isaiah Taylor (four career games) and Bobby Brown (33 years old, 25 NBA games since 2010-11).
So, like Cleveland, Houston can entice Wade with team success, individual perks and a consistent role. But the Rockets look like long shots for several reasons.
For starters, Wade's mid-range game would be a move away from head coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive principles. Houston attempted just 7.1 mid-range shots a night last season (easily the league's fewest) while launching a record 40.3 triples. Wade, a career 28.7 percent perimeter shooter, averaged 6.3 mid-range looks on his own (11th-most).
It's also unclear how big a need a fourth guard really is. If D'Antoni staggers the floor time of Harden and Paul, plus keeps Gordon at or above 30 minutes per game again, Houston might not be able to play Wade as much as he'd like.
Los Angeles Lakers
If seeing the Los Angeles Lakers here sounds your skepticism alarm, you're probably not alone.
The purple-and-gold haven't won more than 27 games since Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard were butting heads in 2012-13. Wade just took an $8 million hit to escape a rebuilding project, per Wojnarowski, and has made it known his eyes remain on the ultimate team prize.
"Everyone wants to compete," Wade told NBA TV's David Aldridge. "It's no secret. We would all love to compete for a championship. At the end of my career, that is one thing I would love to do."
So, why even mention the Lakers here? Because all of this has been true for some time, and yet there have been reports connecting Wade to L.A. An associate told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald earlier this month that Hollywood is an "appealing destination," and an earlier report from Wojnarowski had Wade on the Lakers' radar.
That doesn't seem to have changed. The Lakers have already reached out to Wade, sources told Hoops Hype's Alex Kennedy. Sure, their time lines don't match up, and they have a slew of younger guards to develop. But up-and-comers can always use veteran leadership. Plus, L.A. could use Wade as yet another potential branch to LeBron in 2018 free agency.
If Wade makes this a sentimental decision, he's probably already en route to South Florida.
He spent his first 13 seasons with the Heat, maturing from 2003's No. 5 draft pick into a three-time champion and Finals MVP. And he never seemed completely comfortable with exiting. On his way out, he declared, "I'm a Heat for life," per CBS Sports' Ethan Skolnick. And while Wade told Johnson he doesn't regret leaving, he also inferred it wasn't entirely his doing.
"I left Miami last summer because it wasn't the place that I felt wanted me to be there the same way I wanted to be there," Wade said. "I gave everything I had for those 13 years in Miami. What I wanted back in return, I didn't feel I got."
Could time heal that wound? It seems to be already working on it. A source told Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press there is "absolutely" mutual interest in a reunion. But Jackson hears Wade would need to take a bench role in order to return.
If Wade sets his emotions aside, he might push Miami out of the running. The Heat aren't a contender with or without him. They have guards already in need of rotation minutes, and four of them are making or will make eight-figure salaries. Not to mention, Miami played its best ball last season with a pace-and-space style that doesn't mesh with Wade's age or ability.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Did anyone bother watching the Oklahoma City Thunder last season when Russell Westbrook's one-man band wasn't operating? It was brutal. Instead of seeing Westbrook become his generation's Oscar Robertson, fans bore witness to the worst team in basketball.
That's not hyperbolic, either. With Westbrook, OKC had a plus-3.3 net rating, which would have been good enough for seventh overall. Without him, that number plummeted to minus-8.9, nearly two points per 100 possessions worse than the league's lowest mark (minus-7.2, Lakers).
The 2017-18 Thunder won't crash and burn like that without Westbrook. Not after adding both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony—who are already recruiting Wade, sources told Kennedy—to the roster at minimal cost. But backup backcourt vacancies remain, and Wade would be perfect to fill them.
"The Thunder could use Wade as effectively their backup point guard, filling the team's biggest weakness last season," ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton wrote. "Putting Wade on the ball when Russell Westbrook is on the bench would give Oklahoma City far more shot creation. ... The Thunder's shooting would also give Wade the chance to be effective with their other stars."
OKC didn't have a 16-point scorer next to Westbrook last season. Wade would be the third different 18-point scorer since added to the fold—even the Golden State Warriors don't have that.
There would still be some tricky decisions about who plays late, since everyone beyond George and Westbrook has defined weaknesses. And putting Wade on the ball—to limit the damage done by his lack of shooting—might require taking it out of more capable hands. But for a team that struggled with depth, adding a George-Anthony-Wade trio would be a tremendous offseason haul.
San Antonio Spurs
Wade has gone through an Olympics and two NBA Finals battles with San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. That's allowed them to not only foster a relationship, but also form the level of respect that could make a move to Alamo City as smooth as possible.
"He gives you who he is," Wade told Bleacher Report in 2016. "He doesn't hide who he is. ... Same way he communicates with his players, he communicates with us. It's a respect factor there. Being around him, you get your own personal relationship with him. He's an all-around good guy."
Pop also happens to be on the league's short list of all-time great coaches. And his movement-based system would augment Wade's gifts as a cutter, slasher and distributor (10th-most assists since entering the league), especially while he pairs with knockdown shooter Patty Mills as Tony Parker works his way back from a torn quadriceps tendon.
Once Parker returns, the fit gets messier. Parker isn't a high-volume spacer (career 0.5 triples per 36 minutes), and Wade isn't an outside shooter at all. And even with Pop pulling the strings, it's hard to like the defensive potential of a group with Parker, Wade, Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol.
But the right timeshare for Parker and Wade could keep the veterans fresh and give the offense some off-the-dribble verve. And the Spurs, who fielded the No. 1 defense last season, might have enough stoppers for Pop to solve that puzzle.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.