Chicago Bulls

The hour-long meeting between Butler, Wade and Rondo that led to Bulls' Game 2 victory

The hour-long meeting between Butler, Wade and Rondo that led to Bulls' Game 2 victory

BOSTON—Halfway to history, leaving nothing to chance.

The TD Garden was the Bulls' personal playpen on Tuesday night in their decisive 111-97 win, as the veteran leaders sensed before the game an opportunity was upon them and weren't going to leave anything to chance.

They wanted to make the Celtics quit, and Rajon Rondo wasn't shy about letting everybody know exactly what his intentions were.

Jimmy Butler is intent on showing the front office that he's a No. 1 guy you build around, not one you dangle to jumpstart a rebuild.

Dwyane Wade, seemingly the one with nothing to prove, wants to show he's still living for May and June.

The three were actually greeted by Celtics GM Danny Ainge after they left their press conference, exchanging pleasantries.

Wade has put Ainge out, Ainge wants Butler in, and Ainge knows exactly what "Playoff Rondo" is all about.

Three individual agendas, one common goal.

Rondo near triple-doubles with 11 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists.

Wade fourth-quarter daggers, scoring 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.

Butler doing it all with 22 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

Their elevator goes higher than the Celtics on talent and experience, with veterans who are aroused by the pressure of the playoffs compared to the often-mundane regular season.

Butler, Wade and Rondo met together for an hour after the team's morning shootaround, they revealed to CSNChicago.com. 

No coaches, no teammates, because they knew the burden of advancing fell on they and they alone.

They were going over everything, from strategy to philosophy to even some impromptu play calls they made on the fly.

Considering everything the team has been through this season—and more specifically, the Three Alphas have been through—the meeting of the minds was of grown men who were all on the same page, finally.

Wade said he, LeBron James and Chris Bosh would have similar meetings after morning shootarounds during their days in Miami, leading to four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two titles.

"It was great, spending time with those guys," Wade said to CSNChicago.com after he, Butler and Rondo left the podium on Tuesday night. "Listening to their basketball minds, all of us listening to each other's mind and on the same page. People forget, we just got together. It doesn't just happen. You gotta go through something for it to happen. The best thing is, we went through the adverse situation."

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Wade chuckled because he knew what came to mind, considering the three were in the eye of a storm three months ago after a frustrating loss to the Hawks. Wade and Butler were beyond incensed after blowing a 10-point lead in the last 3 minutes, making subtle and pointed comments about teammates not being focused enough on winning.

The next day, Rondo took to Instagram to call out Wade and Butler. From that point, imagining those three together on a playoff podium seemed as unlikely as an eighth seed beating a one seed in the NBA Playoffs.

Improbable, but not impossible.

"We didn't even have to talk about it," Wade said to CSNChicago.com "Every team I've been on, we've hit adversity at some point. Some, in the playoffs. You wanna hit it before the playoffs and I think we hit it before the playoffs. It made us better, communicate better. Lead better."

While on the podium a few minutes earlier, Wade joked that he "hated" Rondo competitively due to their playoff battles of years' past.

"That hate is that respect," Wade said to the media. "When we played against Boston back in the day, he knew all the plays. He messes up your first option. And then he knows the second option. We were just good enough to have a third option. He was that good."

Now that respect has turned into trust after all three have gone through individual turmoil this season, with Rondo being benched, Wade going through his elbow injury and Butler enduring another season of trade rumors and questions about his leadership.

Now, they're leaning on each other on the floor and figuring out how to make the best of a high-pressure playoff run. When Rondo launches an 80-foot pass to a 6-foot-7 wide receiver that would make Fred Hoiberg cuss under his breath, that's trust. When Butler passes up a lane to feed a cutting Wade for a dunk on the break, that's a team growing to believe in itself.

"I know what Rondo brings," Wade said to CSNChicago.com. "As somebody who played against him. Now I get to experience it up close and personal, I f------ love it. Because he's gonna make sure he's prepared, the last guy on the bench is prepared. Coach is prepared, he's gonna challenge everyone to be as prepared as he is. And when your point guard, your leader is prepared, we're all prepared."

Calling Rondo "our point guard" wasn't a slip of the tongue, as Wade told Rondo after the game, "Way to lead your team tonight."

When Wade signed with the Bulls, he openly stated it was Butler's team and he was there to aid the growing star. Now, he's taking even more of a backseat, ceding space on the floor for Rondo to dominate and be the maestro who gets everyone involved.

"I played on so many teams, man. At the end of the day, I'm all about winning," Wade said to CSNChicago.com. "You know what the easy thing is? It's easy to tell somebody else to play a role, you know what I'm saying? 

"To be a successful team, everybody's got a role. Jimmy's got a role. His role is to be a No. 1 option. I got a role. If you wanna be able to tell people to play their role, you gotta be able to play their role. I had a time where I had the ball every damn play. 35 years old, I don't need that role. My job is to support Jimmy and if they need me to lead, I'll do my job."

Part of his job has been to warn teammates about the perils of relaxing upon coming home, even though Wade himself has never stolen two games on the road to start a playoff series.

But even he admits he doesn't know how this wild, winding ride will end. All he knows is it's exciting and exhilarating.

"This is the only reason I play. Eighty-two games is great but I'm built for this moment," Wade said. "The reason I signed here, I talked to Jimmy, was about this. Talked to Rondo, was about this. We didn't just wanna get in. We had to learn each other. We had to learn how to play together. At the end of the day, this is what we're built for. And we're getting better. We're getting better, still as the season went on. That's the crazy thing. Hopefully there's more season to go on."

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.

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Report: Bulls expected to reach buyout agreement with Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade's homecoming may not last much longer. 

According to Nick Friedell's ESPN report, the Bulls are expected to reach a buyout agreement with the 12-time NBA All-Star "at some point in the next few months." 

The news comes two months after Wade picked up his player option, choosing $24 million over earning less on a more competitive team. 

If Gar Forman and John Paxson indeed decide to buy D-Wade out, the "Three Alphas," which consisted of Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo, would all be out just one season after coming together. 

The buyout may also mean more ping-pong balls in next year's stacked draft