Chicago Bulls

Dwyane Wade may have to summon another magic moment against Celtics

Dwyane Wade may have to summon another magic moment against Celtics

The resume is impeccable as Dwyane Wade has authored some of the most memorable playoff moments in recent history and with the Bulls lacking playoff experience and toughness in some key areas, they could turn to him more than usual against Boston.

People forget, had Wade's Miami Heat beat the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, Wade would've been the MVP with a stellar performance but with LeBron James coming up short, so did Wade's Heat.

A second Finals MVP would've put Wade in an elite category, as he already owns a 2006 Finals MVP, so he's as decorated as any playoff participant in the series — having played more playoff minutes than any of the Celtics players.

Can he do it again, this time in a Bulls uniform?

Even at his age, Wade has done more than just turn it up last year as he nearly carried the Miami Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals, taking the Toronto Raptors to a Game 7 after turning the first round into a personal showcase against the Charlotte Hornets.

Against the Raptors he took 20 3-pointers, including going four of six in a 38-point Game 3 performance in Miami. He literally caught the basketball world off-guard, giving credence to the nickname "Father Prime."

He averaged 23.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the seven-game set, with another 30-point game sprinkled in last May.

Two 30-point takeovers could mean a Bulls upset in this series.

"The biggest thing with Dwyane is this is where he has played his best basketball — in the postseason," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We watched all his games last year in the postseason and he was unbelievable as far as the versatility in his game and really extending his range. He didn't shoot a lot of threes in the regular season given the different types of isolations. It's the moment that he lives for. When you got a guy who is going to want the pressure on his shoulders, it's a great luxury to have."

Wade will likely have Celtics guard Avery Bradley on him, perhaps the best on-ball defender in the league. Bradley takes away airspace from a dribbler and has a strong enough base not to get bullied in the paint if Wade takes him down to the block.

[MORE BULLS-CELTICS: The Jimmy Butler-Isaiah Thomas matchup is tricky territory for the Bulls]

It doesn't sound like the Bulls will go much to that strategy, unless Hoiberg is playing playoff possum to throw Brad Stevens off the scent.

"You have to be a little careful. They're so physical with their guards," Hoiberg said. "Avery Bradley is one of the toughest defenders in the league as far as getting into the ball. He does a great job of fronting. You can't stall your offense trying to jam the ball in if it’s not there."

All that said, Hoiberg believes they played their best basketball of the season during the stretch when they went 7-2 to finish the season — most of that happened while Wade was still recovering from his right elbow injury.

"Players who have that type of experience have that type of responsibility, of doing a little more this time of year. Now we gotta continue on and do the things that gave us some success," Hoiberg said. "You can't completely change the way you do things. But you have to lean on your guys who've been through this experience."

Due to the necessity of the personnel, Rajon Rondo took more control and Jimmy Butler took another step, surrounded by more shooters and more driving lanes. When Wade returned for the last three games in the effort to get his rhythm back, it’s been a slow integration.

Now, the minutes are about to ramp up. Wade's 29.9 minutes per game were a career low. He played 24, 22 and 22 minutes in his three return games, turning the ball over 13 times in the three games.

"We're going to continue to push the minutes up. We had a goal of about 28 the last game if we needed him," Hoiberg said. "He was in there a little longer than he normally would've been just to try to get him a little bit of a rhythm. He's continuing to come back from injury. It was an injury with his arm and he was given full clearance for that. It's more now, especially after getting the three games, of how he's feeling from a conditioning standpoint."

As much as Hoiberg wants the Bulls to keep their pace up, the playoffs are a different animal. Possessions are traditionally more limited, the game slows down and players of Wade's caliber become exponentially more valuable.

"That was the biggest thing with Dwyane getting back, he's won a lot of games for us in the fourth quarters when the game slows down. it's a great luxury to have," Hoiberg said.

But in the playoffs, the luxuries become extreme necessities, and Wade may have to summon one more magic moment, or four.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.