Disconnect Between Stars and Teammates Has Made Bulls a Compelling Mess

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterFebruary 1, 2017

PORTLAND, OR - NOVEMBER 15: Dwyane Wade #3 and Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls talk during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers  on November 15, 2016 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)
Sam Forencich/Getty Images

It was not literally in the official contract signed by and between the Chicago Bulls and Dwyane Wade, but it was understood just as well as the terms or compensation or NBA logo in the upper left corner.

When you add a player with these accomplishments, those championships, the movie-star wife and the 6.28 million Twitter followers, he is going to become the voice of the team.

The only way he won't be telling people what to do, and how it should be done, is if he can't fulfill the "services" section of the contract at age 35, falls way short of statistical expectations and organically loses his alpha standing. (To Wade's credit, that hasn't happened despite the wear on his shoulder and knee, his career lows in shooting—42.8 percentand assists3.8 per nightto go with his 18.9 points per game.)

Throw in the fact that he is from Chicago and saw how much a homecoming elevated buddy LeBron James' empire, plus how Wade just lost a power struggle with Pat Riley in making the decision to leave the Miami Heat, and his move to the Bulls was always going to be a stage for Wade to flex.

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 29:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Chicago Bulls is introduced by Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman at a press conference on July 29, 2016 at the Advocate Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees
Gary Dineen/Getty Images

And in his exercising of power, the Bulls have become a portrait of dysfunction.

Wade went to Chicago to be the truest form of himself he ever has been, to have the most confident year of a very confident life.

Whatever Wade wanted it to be like was what it was going to be like, and it has been his choice since the season started to work mostly inside the comfort zone of making this another buddy movie. Wade has embraced All-Star Jimmy Butler, and Butler has embraced Wade.

The two are like brothers. Wade is introduced first before the game, and Butler is introduced last. Wade waits until right before tipoff to change into his game jersey; Butler does the same.

And the two both erred in calling out their teammates publicly after a recent loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Wade was so crazy comfortable with his power that he overreached with it, and Butler followed.

Wade understood his misstep, which is why he quietly accepted Rajon Rondo's Instagram blowback on behalf of the team's everymen.

Dishing out that comeuppance to Wade was easily the highlight of Rondo's season, which has seen him out of the starting lineup for weeks (and even out of the rotation recently).

In his 11th season, Rondo has played almost as many years as Wade (14th) in this league, so he brings some specific clauses to his contract when he signs, too. He has been an independent thinker who is cool with being brusque, so his righteous role in the drama last week was not surprising.

Nor was his willingness to stand up for the Bulls' rank-and-file players.

During training camp, it was Rondo who drove up from Chicago to Milwaukee for an exhibition game against the Bucks when it was agreed beforehand that Butler, Wade and Rondo would rest. Even though they're both big in Milwaukee from both going to Marquette, Butler and Wade stayed home rather than join the team.

Despite Rondo's benching and the public back-and-forth, no one should expect the Bulls to move him in an admission of roster-building guilt before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

The Bulls, finally, are headed in a more logical direction on the court now with a clearer definition of player roles.

Rondo appears to have found a relative comfort in pushing tempo and creating shots for the young legs of the second unit rather than competing for the ball with Butler and Wade, who yearn to be de facto point guards anyway.

A more confident coach than Fred Hoiberg might have identified that reality sooner. Instead, he acceded to his stars' (nicknamed "The Three Alphas" by Rondo before the season) egos while failing to trust his gut that rookie Paul Zipser, one of the most experienced players coming to the NBA from Europe, was ready to help bolster that second unit until recently.

Not only has Rondo gained more playing time in recent weeks, he also has gained some respect from the incidents of the past week.

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 02: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Chicago Bulls sits on the bench as the Bulls take on the Charlotte Hornets at the United Center on January 2, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For Wade, the reaction to his critique of teammates was a reality check about the limits to which a veteran, even a legend and champion, can sneer at young teammates without practicing alongside them.

(Some within the Los Angeles Lakers referred to the limited practice schedule of once-maniacal worker Kobe Bryant as far back as 2011 derisively as "Kobe Spa Days.")

Now that the turmoil has spilled over, the Bulls' best chance to build on it is not so much for Rondo and Wade to make super-nice from now on. It's for Butler to deliver himself from stardom to an even higher level and for the front office eventually to follow through on its initial plans to surround him with much-needed athleticism. Rondo and Wade remain a terrible match basketball-wise, so there's a limit to how good the Bulls can be with them together.

The Bulls rank 29th in the league in field-goal shooting, last in three-point percentage and last in three-pointers made per game. It's also no coincidence that Butler has especially erupted since the ball-dominant Rondo got pushed out of his way back in December.

Let it be said that the Bulls did get something out of this past week: a reminder that a team is always more than its stars—and a lot of exposure.

It might look embarrassing to have your team publicly sniping, but relevance comes in an array of ways in the sports and entertainment world, including via breathless reports of self-inflicted wounds. The Bulls have our attention, and many around this league believe that's all they ever really wanted in putting this hodgepodge roster together.

As they embark upon a challenging six-game trip through the Western Conference, the Bulls have been the talk of the NBA.

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 09:  Fred Hoiberg of the Chicago Bulls and Dwyane Wade #3 converse during the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 9, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

On some backward level, kudos should go to John Paxson and Gar Forman in the Bulls front office for "accomplishing" something besides an unwillingness to tank.

The Bulls—with their league-leading attendance for the eighth consecutive season, Second City charisma and those iconic uniforms unchanged from Michael Jordan's era—did not want to lose their relevance any sooner than necessary.

So the Bulls said yes to signing Wade and Rondo. And here you have them at 24-25...far more interesting than your typical .500 team.

That was always the biggest draw to bringing Wade home at this point in his career: to replace the fame from the best days of Jordan and Rose, and keep our eyes on the Bulls.

    

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.

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