Chicago Bulls

Dwyane Wade ready to return vs. Nets on Saturday

Dwyane Wade ready to return vs. Nets on Saturday

The plan has been in place for a few days now and now Dwyane Wade looks ready to make his return after an 11-game absence, Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets.

Wade went through a full practice at the NBPA Headquarters in Manhattan and assuming there are no setbacks, he'll be in the lineup Saturday afternoon with three regular-season games remaining.

How many minutes he plays and whether he's starts or not is to be determined, but Wade certainly sounds like a man who's preparing to play as opposed to modeling in his inactive threads.

"Got another good day in so obviously I'm ahead of schedule from the diagnosis when it first happened," Wade said. "But the final decision comes from trainers and coaches, if they're comfortable with me playing."

CSNChicago.com reported Saturday was the target date for Wade to return from his fractured right elbow, which is at least a week ahead of schedule from when he injured himself on March 15 against the Memphis Grizzlies when getting tangled up with Zach Randolph in the second half of the Bulls' 98-91 loss.

"Dwyane participated in everything, we did a little scrimmage in the end and participated fully," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He looked good. We'll head back to the hotel now, everybody will sit down as a staff and make a decision on where we go from here."

[RELATED: Bulls prepare for the return of Dwyane Wade]

Wade said the coaching staff and trainers have to make the final determination on whether he's ready to come back and Hoiberg said the initial decision has to be made from the trainers.

"I don't know. It comes from them," Wade said. "They gotta get together. They just keep asking me how I feel and I kind of through this whole process I know my body really well, so I've been communicating with them through this. I guess they'll out their minds together and see if they think I'm ready."

In his mind, the decision has been made. 

"I feel like I'm ready to get back out there and try and play. They've watched me practice, so they've seen things that I haven't," Wade said. "Obviously by sitting and watching, did I protect it? I don't know. I tried to just go out there and play. I feel comfortable, I'm not feeling any pain, so we'll see. Hopefully they'll let me get out there tomorrow and play a little bit, try and get back in the flow a little bit, and also try and help the team make this push that they've been doing an amazing job of to try and get into the playoffs."

And of course, being the prideful player that he is, Wade would like to start and gradually increase his minutes with the playoffs starting eight days from now.

"I would like to start. But it's Coach's decision," Wade said. "I would like Coach to play me. So whatever he decides to do is what I'm going to do. This right here is about our team. It's not about me. I just want to make sure that I come in and help this team continue to win."

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The Bulls have gone 7-4 without Wade, with some surprising wins and more recently, dealing with a lighter schedule that will continue to the regular-season finale Wednesday against the same Nets team they'll face on Saturday.

In his absence, Wade has witnessed Jimmy Butler take the reins even more while also seeing Rajon Rondo take control and Nikola Mirotic emerge on the other inside of maddening inconsistency.

Wade called Butler a "Franchise player" and said Butler has been playing like a top-5 player since he got hurt. For the team, Wade seems impressed with the Bulls' resilience.

"Finding a way to win, that's the one thing I've seen," Wade said. "Sometimes people say it's ugly basketball. But I just feel like we're finding ways to win. In this league, you have to do that, especially right here, right now. You look at the schedule and you say, ‘Well, they got the easiest schedule.' But we're playing against NBA teams. We're playing against guys who are playing very free. When guys are playing free, it's even harder to play against them."

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.