By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — In a pensive mood the morning after the Bulls’ season ended, Dwyane Wade pointed out that at 35, after 14 years in the NBA, he’s in an envious spot.
“I have a great luxury,” Wade said Saturday. “I don’t need to ring chase, but I can.”
That’s not Wade’s option distilled entirely to its core, but it’s reflective of the decision he faces this summer. Wade holds a player option to return to the Bulls for $23.8 million in 2017-’18 or he could choose to decline it and become an unrestricted free agent, where he’d surely draw less money but perhaps find himself a more preferable basketball situation.
Wade has until late June to make that call, one he’ll decide after serious discussion with Bulls management, his family and his camp. Wade had a routine end-of-season exit meeting with management Saturday morning at the Advocate Center, after which he spoke to the media for 19 minutes.
Foremost on Wade’s mind will be this: What’s the direction the Bulls want to take for the 2017-’18 season after a 41-41 campaign that ended with a first-round exit to the Celtics?
“I don’t know,” Wade said of the definitive criteria for his decision. “I haven’t sat down and thought about it 100 percent yet. It’s more so when they come to me with their vision of where they’re going, if I feel I can be a big part of it and be comfortable with it. I don’t know. I haven’t wrote it down yet, where I can sit back and say these are my pros and cons, which I do. I’ve been doing it since college. But I haven’t done it yet. I don’t have to do it now. I have at least a month before I have to start thinking that way.”
There are several moving parts to Wade’s decision. Bulls management stressed in the wake of the Derrick Rose trade last June that they wanted to get “younger and more athletic.” They then surprisingly went out and signed veterans Rajon Rondo and Wade while surrounding them with a team full of youngsters who experienced growing pains and displayed inconsistencies.
It remains unclear what the Bulls’ vision is for this summer. General manager Gar Forman has previously preached the benefit of having salary cap space in 2018 and 2019 — which may hint at short-term, lower-profile signings this July — but he also oversees a team that was built on a whim last offseason. So it’s anyone’s guess, Wade’s included.
“We all speculating on what they should do but none of us are in that seat, that position,” Wade said. “Until I am, if I am one day, I will not speculate on what they have to do or what they should do. They do what they feel is right. Sometimes it’s a home run, sometimes it’s a bunt, sometime you strike out. It’s just the nature of the beast.”
One crucial factor for Wade’s return to the Bulls is the status of Jimmy Butler, a three-time All-Star who has often found himself amid the center of trade rumors. Butler was influential in recruiting Wade to Chicago last summer and if he were to be traded, it would signal a rebuilding process and seem more likely that Wade would opt out.
“It is a Dwyane Wade decision,” Wade said. “Jimmy is, you know, a huge component in me being here. You know, what’s his future like? But at the end of the day it is a me decision – it’s weird talking about yourself in third person sometimes – but it is a Dwyane Wade decision at the end of the day .But everyone knows that Jimmy’s my guy, and I’m here because of our conversation (last summer). But a lot of it depends on the whole big picture, not just one piece. Jimmy’s a big piece, but it’s a big picture as an organization. Just want to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Wade had an eventful debut season with the Bulls. He averaged 18.3 points on 43.4 percent shooting while playing in 60 games, starting 59. It was the one game he didn’t start that may be what the 2016-’17 Bulls are most remembered for. In late January, Wade and Butler were benched for the start of a game after criticizing their young teammates, a move that drew a stern rebuke from point guard Rajon Rondo in an incendiary Instagram post.
“I respected their decision to fine me,” Wade said. “I didn’t like the benching part.”
Wade has said on several occasions that family, money and basketball fortunes will be the factors in his decision. Considering he’s said his family enjoys being back in his hometown and the Bulls will have the best financial offer, Wade was told it looked like the signs pointed toward him staying in Chicago.
He downplayed that.
“Well, I don’t know,” Wade said. “I don’t really go with the signs. I’m not a predictable person, I don’t think. I don’t know. It’s not a bad thing for me. I’m in a good situation. Whether there’s a lot of options or not, I’m in a very good situation. As a player, you can decide what you want to do. And I have a lot of money to decide if I want to take it or not. It’s not a bad thing, because I worked my butt of for it over my career, so no rush in my mind. I don’t have to think about it right now. I’ve got at least a month before my mind starts going there.”
It’s in that next month that Wade says he’ll leave town, let his hair grow out a bit and get a tan. The wheels of his brain will also be spinning, wondering what’s next. Ring chase somewhere else or return to Chicago?
“It’s a great luxury to have if I want to do,” Wade said. “Or I can be a part of passing down my knowledge to younger players. It’s either way. Whatever I decide, I’m going to embrace whatever role I have on a team.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.