So did Dwyane Wade play his last game with the Bulls dressed like Kermit the Frog?
It isn’t easy being green, as we’ve been told, and it wasn’t easy being Wade Wednesday night in the Bulls annual jersey tribute to St., Patrick’s Day. Wade in the fourth quarter sustained an elbow injury that he and we pretty much knew meant the end of the season. He said he heard it pop. Popping sounds are not good for body parts. An MRI Thursday morning confirmed the sum of everyone’ worst fears, what Wade described as, “a fractured bone and some ligament damage. Technical terms would be a sprain or whatever.”
Whatever it’s called, and Wade said surgery isn’t necessary, the Bulls said Wade would miss the rest of the regular season. He perhaps could return if the Bulls make the playoffs, but that’s questionable. With an option on his contract for next season, will Wade return at all?
“Mentally, I’m good,” Wade said Thursday morning before the team left for Washington. “The only thing I can do is try and move on from yesterday and try and get better each day. Last night I kind of knew I was going to be here. Tried to mentally wrap my brain around it last night and now today all I can do is come in with a positive mindset and move forward. It sucks; it’s unfortunate. It’s not the way I would have written it, but it is what it is. No surgery, so that’s one thing I’m happy about. I’ll just rehab and hopefully get on the court at the end of this year, and if not this year at some point next year.
“At this point, it’s too much cart in front of the horse,” Wade said about looking to where he will play next season. “Couple hours removed, but definitely too soon.”
Wade has a player option for a salary of about $24 million next season with the Bulls. He has said he isn’t inclined to chase a title since he has three and will make judgments based on finances, family and team situations.
“It took me awhile to really get comfortable in these new surroundings,” Wade said about signing with the Bulls after 13 years with the Miami Heat. “But then I finally got comfortable and I thought I played the way I wanted to. Coach did a great job of controlling my minutes. I tried to make adjustments to the different styles of play, different teammates and roles that I had. But overall, I thought I did a good job.”
Wade finished the season for the Bulls playing 57 games. He averaged 18.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists. He shot 43 percent, which was a career low, but 31.3 percent on threes, about double his percentage from last season. That made his overall shooting percentage comparable to last season, though he played 74 games for Miami. His assists also were a career low and his minutes played a career low 30.2. Wade now has averaged missing about 20 games each of the last five seasons. Wade turns 36 next season. The Bulls were 5-6 in games he did not play.
Which is why there still remains hope for a playoff run even with Wade’s injury.
“Looked like he got his arm caught up on somebody's shoulder and then somebody hit it from the backside, and he's got a partial tear and a fracture in there,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “So it's obviously not what we wanted to hear. But it gives the next guy an opportunity to step up. We've got to try to figure out exactly what to do with the rotation from here, but to not have Dwyane the rest of the season is a tough blow for our team. We have shortened our rotation some. We're hopefully going to do everything we can to put ourselves in a position to win and then see what happens.”
The immediate need is a new starting shooting guard, which figures to be Denzel Valentine. Valentine was three of seven on threes against Memphis and has become one of the better long range threats since the trade of Doug McDermott. He’s made 13 threes the last five games.
Nikola Mirotic also figures to get more playing time and Hoiberg said there has been discussions about Mirotic starting.
Without Wade, the Bulls do, in theory, put on the floor more of a semblance of the sort of “pace and space” type team they often talk about but fail to put into practice. Except in practice. Though obviously with less veteran savvy.
There obviously will be more expectations on Jimmy Butler, who has slumped since the All-Star break, seemingly mired in a mixture of late season fatigue from carrying the two-way load, the after effects of a heel injury and the disappointment of a second season in a row facing no playoffs.
“It’s an opportunity league for certain guys and it comes in different ways,” said Wade. “So this is an opportunity for someone that probably wasn’t getting enough time that they wanted, probably wasn’t getting the touches they wanted. This is going to be an opportunity to step up and try and help this team as we are in this battle to make the playoffs down the stretch. So from a teammate, from a fan perspective of the game, you want to see who steps up to that.
“A lot is going to go on Jimmy’s shoulders,” said Wade. “But a lot has been on his shoulders already, so he’ll be fine. Just focus on what (Butler) needs to do and that’s to go out the last 14 games of the year and kick (butt) and help lead this team to the playoffs. It’ll be an even better story with me out of it. It’s a challenge for him. And I look to see how he rises to the challenge.”
The Bulls have begun to show signs of that faster game with Rajon Rondo back in the starting lineup and playing his best of the season. The Bulls have recorded an impressive 15 fast break points in five of the last six games and have been averaging about 10 threes made per game the last six games. Plus, Rondo is taking advantage of the short sideline corner for threes and has been the team’s best three-point shooter in March. The elements are there for more transition since while Wade is a valuable fourth quarter scoring option, he also slows the game with isolation play to get his shots.
Jerian Grant has shown an ability to make threes, which gives the team its most three-point shooting options it perhaps ever had. So with Wade lost and few, obviously, expecting the Bulls to make a run, there’s time for guys to earn a look for beyond this season and to make it a surprise finish.
“To have Dwyane out of the lineup now again, Jimmy's going to have to have a lot of responsibility as he has all season, but other guys are gonna have to step up as well,” said Hoiberg. “It's going to take a great mindset by everybody to step up their games. Got to make up for almost 20 points per game with Dwyane out of the lineup right now, and hopefully, collectively, as a group we all step up and fill that void.”
And make it perhaps 50 shades of green and a season worthy of an emerald instead of just looking green.