By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — With diverse basketball experiences ranging from winning three championships with star-studded teams to willing an unremarkable club to the playoffs to being a part of an abysmal 15-win squad, Bulls guard Dwyane Wade has seen plenty in his 14-year career.
It’s with that as context that he weighed in Friday evening on the current state of the Bulls, who a day prior traded two key pieces in Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott to the Thunder for a return headlined by 22-year-old point guard Cameron Payne. After that trade, Bulls executives made clear their short-term goal was to open up playing time for the team’s young core in the final 25 regular-season games, while they offered little detail on their big-picture direction.
Wade demurred when asked whether the Bulls took a step back by trading a reliable starter and their best shooter, but he did call Gibson the “heart and soul” of the Bulls. Like many, Wade doesn’t know what the future holds for the Bulls, who entered Friday’s home game against the Suns sitting at 28-29 and in seventh place in the East.
“The front office does what the front office does,” Wade said when asked about the Bulls’ direction. “It’s their job to come up with what their plan and direction will be. As players, it’s our job to play with what we are assigned to play with. So no, it’s not my concern at this point. I’m not worried about it. My goal and my focus is, I haven’t played in a while (due to a wrist injury). I want to get my first wind out of me, I want to get back to being Dwyane, having fun with this team the second half of the season and just seeing what we can do. It’s no pressure. We’ve just got to go out there and play basketball and put us in a position where hopefully we are a playoff team.”
Wade, 35, is a key figure in that Bulls future because he holds a player option for $23.8 million for 2017-’18. About 28 hours after the trade deadline passed, Wade didn’t yet know how Thursday’s events — which included executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson emphasizing the Bulls were building “with” and not “around” star Jimmy Butler — would affect his decision come June.
Specifically, does Bulls management want him back after it preached a youth movement Thursday?
“I don’t know, I haven’t had that conversation about next season with the guys,” Wade said. “I think we all understood when I came here I signed a two-year deal with a one-year option, and both sides wanted it that way. And when the time came, no matter the teammates I had and the season we had, it was going to be my option. I take my option seriously. I always look into what the best thing for me is.
“I haven’t talked to them about that, and I don’t want to. I don’t want them to come to me and tell me what moves they’re making and what the future is, I just want to play basketball and do my best job as a player and what I can do. And then from there, let them look at me on my talent and what I did and myself and let me look at where the team’s at and on what I did for this season and go from there.”
Along with the money and allure of his hometown, Wade has previously cited the ascending Butler as a key reason why he chose the Bulls last July. Amid intense trade speculation, the Bulls chose to hang onto Butler on Thursday, but all signs point to talks rekindling ahead of the draft in June.
On Friday morning, Butler maintained that he’s not bothered by the Bulls failing to publicly endorse him as their franchise centerpiece.
“I don’t care care if anybody wants to build around me,” Butler said. “Just win. At the end of the day, when you win, everything is fine whether you’re built around or not built around.”
Wade — who called Butler a top-10 player in the league — had a different take on how to build a winner.
“Everyone has their own process, way they think about things,” Wade said. “I think individually, I believe you build around with players in mind, to know what style you want to play. Or you build around a coach you bring in. You’ve got to build around something, an idea, whether it’s a player or a style, and that shows what kind of players you want to bring in. But I’m not in their position. I don’t have the experience that Pax and Gar (Forman) have. I would never say that they were wrong at all. Everyone has their own views on things.”
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.