It sounded like Dwyane Wade was being humble and funny at practice Thursday when he nominated himself for a best-supporting player Oscar. Humble and funny are both good things in the playoffs, though somewhat easier with the 2-0 lead the Bulls have against the Boston Celtics with Game 3 Friday in the United Center.
But one big, big reason why the Bulls have that lead, and suddenly look so good, and so different, is that Wade seems to have accepted and embraced the inevitable and the vital, for himself and his team. It perhaps took a long time, and needed a fractured elbow to nurse it along.
But Dwyane Wade has taken a starring role for the Bulls because he isn’t.
“I’m a supporting man,” Wade was saying at practice Thursday when asked about his 11 fourth quarter points in the Game 2 victory. “I want to be up for an Oscar in my supporting role. Jimmy’s the leader. He’s the lead actor here. Myself, Rondo and all those guys, it’s our job to support him. When it’s time for me to lead… I’ve done this my whole life. I’m not saying I’m gonna always come through, but I enjoy the opportunities when it’s time for me to make (plays). Some nights, it won’t be. You’ve got to do other things. The other night it was an opportunity for me to make some shots, get the ball in the areas that I like it. God willing the ball went in. That’s a comfort in our team knowing that we have multiple guys that can do it, especially with Jimmy. Because as the series goes on, they’re not just going to allow Jimmy to do what Jimmy wants to do. It’s going to change at some point in the series. So we’ve all got to be prepared to shine in our lead moments.”
Wade had a moment Tuesday with 22 points to tie Butler for the team lead, making three of four threes. But it was less that Wade was so good in the closeout fourth quarter than the way he’s eventually, perhaps grudgingly, but inevitably settled into an appropriate team role.
Everyone asks what’s up now with these formerly 41-41 Bulls, seemingly competing all season more with themselves than anyone else.
It’s not clear exactly how it happened, but it all changed, in part, after that March 12 loss in Boston. But not just with Rajon Rondo inserted back as a starter and Nikola Mirotic back in the rotation and soon to start.
And not because in the next game in Charlotte Wade got hurt and was declared out for the season. He challenged that diagnoses and came back for the last three games of the regular season.
The Bulls were 7-4 in Wade’s absences and set a franchise record for double-figure three-pointers made in consecutive games. But not because Wade was out.
The Bulls are not a better team without Dwyane Wade.
Wade is a winner and still a force and a threat in the game, especially in the playoffs.
Just not the way he once was, as he often acknowledges. The problem was the Bulls were not better when Wade appeared as that previous guy. He could have a resemblance to that guy in Miami, but Chicago never saw him that way.
It apparently took awhile for the two images to merge.
It seemed obscured by the personalities, the styles, the egos, the adjustments, which were all realities. It’s easy to say people should just get along and mesh because, well it’s best for everyone. But how often does it go that smoothly at the office, at home?
The Bulls were patching this season together on the fly by basically following the old Jerry Krause blueprint of addition by subtraction. It doesn’t happen quickly. Take a look at those Bulls mid-1980s. So Rose, Noah and Gasol were dispatched. Wade joined Butler, who was thrilled about that, the two immediately bonding. Rondo was added before Wade’s possibility even existed. Who really thought he’d ever leave Miami?
But, uh oh, look what you had now and everyone knew: Three guys who were at their best with the ball in their hands.
It’s not so easy to extract it when you have no championships and they have.
Fred Hoiberg tried.
He made it subtle, as you have to with proud veterans.
They all started, but everyone knew that wouldn’t work.
So he took Wade out early and then basically made him captain of the second unit, getting Rondo off the floor to make room for Wade and Co. Then alternating along the way. That had a nice start to it at 10-6, but then it ran up against some bad matchups in December, longer and athletic Milwaukee, the Thunder, crazed Minnesota, the Spurs. The losses were piling up and who knows exactly how it happened, who said what to whom and who lobbied. But Rondo suddenly wasn’t even playing, a DNP New Year’s Eve against the Bucks and four more to follow. Would he be released?
Rondo came back, but now he was the second unit captain with a point guard in Grant to play off the ball. We’ll get it to you when we’re ready.
That wasn’t going so good when the famous meltdown occurred against Atlanta Jan. 25. Wade went off, Jimmy sort of did, but not so much. Rondo hit back with the brilliant response of how leaders should behave. Wade was knocked back as an uneasy truce survived. The rotation still was a mess with Rondo the de facto second unit captain, embracing the role, the kids flocking to him like baby birds to the nest.
Then when it all came apart that March afternoon in front of everyone in Boston, Wade knew. He knew better than anyone else. Hoiberg also knew; it was time to change. Now or never.
But on that flight to Charlotte Wade went to Hoiberg to lobby. For Rondo. They’re probably never going to be close, but they’re pros, teammates with a common goal, specialists who understand team transcends contention. The Bulls needed more of Rondo’s speed and savvy, more of Mirotic’s spacing. It probably wasn’t said, but who knows. Less of Wade until it was time for more.
Wade had plenty of time to consider quickly when he was injured, and as these playoffs dawned, it became a true Big Three.
Maybe with a Bigger One.
Both Butler and Wade ceded to Rondo’s speed and court know-how and Rondo sought to make them look better, taking on his defensive assignment with vehemence and stepping aside for the big dogs to eat when the team was hungry for their excellence.
It looks so much better, and, what do you know, works better as well. But still a long way for it to pay off.
“I’m not going to lie. We’re a confident team, but you don’t think you are going to go to Boston and get two,” Wade acknowledged about his surprise of the last few days. “You’re just trying to get one. But once you got that one, now it’s just another game. Now you’ve got to try and get the next one. But coming in, I didn’t say, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be up 2-0 on Boston.’ No, no one thought that. We are in this position. We’ve earned it.
“We’ve played well in two games,” Wade pointed out. “This team is locked into what we need to do. We’ve got leaders in this locker room that’s been through these moments. I remember when I was young and I went on the road and it got loud it shook me a little bit. Now down 7-0 to start (Game 2), I’m not even thinking about that. I’m thinking about what I’ve got to do for the next play. Having veteran guys, having a guy like Rondo that’s won a championship, myself; it really helps.
“These young guys have been playing very well,” agreed Wade. “But it gets harder now. You’ve got more expectations. At home, you’re supposed to win. So it can get a little bit harder for young guys if you put too much pressure on yourself. I’ve been in the league 14 years. I’ve never been in this situation, being the eighth seed and having won the first two games on the road. This is uncharted waters for all of us. What we can do is continue what we started to do, and that is focus on each possession, focus on each play. Try to win those. Which will eventually win you a ball game.
“Our coaches have prepared us,” Wade added. “We’ve all communicated and talked about what we can do. This (Boston) is a good team. They’re not No. 1 seed for no reason, and this is a seven-game series. So we’ve just got to go out there and continue to play team basketball and not really worry about who gets the individual success. Who gets the team success at the end of the day is all of us.”
They all came to understand and agree, sacrifice and collaborate. It may not have been too late after all.