-- Where does Dwyane Wade have the best chance of making a difference this season?
Wade, a 12-time All-Star, is a free agent after agreeing to a buyout with the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. Already, many of the league's best teams have been mentioned as possible destinations, with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst reporting that the Cleveland Cavaliers are front-runners to sign Wade, with the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs also possible options.
At 35, Wade is no longer the dynamic scorer and playmaker who was a key part of the Heat's 2006, 2012 and 2013 championship teams. How will the current Wade fit in with those four contenders, and which destination is the best in basketball terms? Let's take a look.
In the decline phase of his career, Wade has struggled with efficiency. After posting a .568 true shooting percentage during his first 11 seasons, Wade has slipped to .520 over the past three seasons. His .508 true shooting in 2016-17 was the worst of Wade's career and ranked him 19th among the 20 players who used at least 29 percent of their team's plays, ahead of only Zach Randolph.
Naturally, Wade's high usage rate has been part of the problem. He finished his team's plays with a shot, trip to the free throw line or turnover as relatively often last season as in 2012-13, when he was four years younger. The difference then was Wade was playing alongside two other stars in LeBron James and Chris Bosh, a role more similar to the one he'll surely play this season if he signs with a contender.
On a better team, Wade should spend less time in isolation. His 2.1 isolation plays per game last season ranked 19th in the NBA, per Synergy Sports tracking on NBA.com/Stats, and Wade's 0.88 points per play on them ranked 17th of the 22 players who averaged at least two isolation plays per game.
At the same time Wade's shaky spot-up shooting will be an issue playing off the ball. His 45 3-pointers last season in Chicago were his most since 2010-11, but Wade shot just 31.0 percent on those attempts. Wade's poor shooting can't be attributed to shot selection, as he hit nearly an identical percentage on catch-and-shoot 3s (30.6 percent) as pull-ups (30.9 percent) according to SportVU tracking on NBA.com/Stats.
Back during the Big Three days, Wade was able to compensate for his iffy shooting with his ability as a cutter. As a result, when Tom Haberstroh and I quantified players' gravitational pull on opposing defenders in 2014, we found Wade ranked surprisingly well.
But Wade was largely a nonfactor as a cutter last season, scoring just 42 points all season on cuts per Synergy Sports tracking. It's unclear whether that was a function of the Bulls' poor spacing, in which case it could improve with better shooting around him, or Wade's declining athleticism.
Having scouted the current Wade, let's take a look at how he'd fit with the four primary contenders to sign him.
Wade's already gone through the hard work of learning how to play off James, something that took a full season together in Miami. Again, their success was due primarily to Wade's cutting. And frankly, it's questionable just how successful the partnership was. As Haberstroh explored during the 2013 NBA Finals, James and the Heat were often more effective with Wade on the bench.
With Kyrie Irving in Boston and Isaiah Thomas likely to miss an extended period of time due to his hip injury, the Cavaliers could use a shot creator to facilitate the offense when James is on the bench, a time they've struggled in the past. However, Cleveland already added another former Bull to fill that role in Derrick Rose, whose strengths and weaknesses are remarkably similar to Wade's at this point. Wade's been the better of the two players, and is more comfortable playing off the ball, but something would have to give if the Cavaliers signed Wade to go with Rose.
Frankly, I suspect adding Wade would make Cleveland a weaker playoff team if it meant playing him ahead of Jae Crowder and J.R. Smith, role players whose skills better complement James and a healthy Thomas.
A return to Miami, where Wade played his first 13 seasons before leaving on contentious terms last summer, is the sentimental favorite. In basketball terms, it probably makes the least sense. Like the Cavaliers, the Heat have a Wade-like player in new shooting guard Dion Waiters. Unlike Rose, Waiters is a big part of Miami's future after signing a four-year, $47 million deal this offseason.
Wade's return could also hamper the production of starting point guard Goran Dragic, who benefited from being able to play on the ball more last season after Wade's departure. Windhorst described an "uneasy tension" between the two players when they shared the backcourt because both desired to handle the ball.
So much as Heat fans might like the idea of a reunion between Wade and team president Pat Riley, the team is probably best off without him. And Wade seems to know it, as a source with knowledge of his thinking told Ramona Shelburne that Miami isn't a realistic option.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have already added two of the league's most accomplished players this offseason in Paul George and more recently Carmelo Anthony, so what's one more?
After trading two players for Anthony, Oklahoma City has a roster spot open. And the Thunder could use Wade as effectively their backup point guard, filling the team's biggest weakness last season. (The Thunder also added a more traditional backup point guard, Raymond Felton, in free agency.)
Putting Wade on the ball when Russell Westbrook is on the bench would give Oklahoma City far more shot creation -- though it would prevent Anthony and George from taking large ball-handling roles in those situations.
The Thunder's shooting would also give Wade the chance to be effective with their other stars. He could slot into Andre Roberson's role alongside Anthony, George, Westbrook and Steven Adams, which would actually be a shooting upgrade (Roberson made 24.6 percent of his 3s last season). However, Oklahoma City would miss Roberson's ability to defend on and off the ball, and Anthony would have to guard power forwards -- something he'd prefer to avoid.
San Antonio Spurs
Wade joining the opponent that beat his Miami team in the 2014 NBA Finals would be a fascinating marriage of player and system. And it could fill an important need for the Spurs, at least until Tony Parker returns to the lineup during the season. (On Sunday, Parker told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated he's now targeting a November comeback, weeks sooner than in the original timeline.)
I like the idea of San Antonio pairing Wade with Patty Mills, a strong shooter at the point whose floor spacing would be a complement to Wade's skills. The Spurs' ball movement has the best chance of maximizing Wade's ability as a cutter and would highlight his passing and decision-making in ways we haven't seen since the Big Three at its peak.
Finding room for both Wade and Parker once the latter is back healthy could be trickier. While Parker is an accurate 3-point shooter, he's an infrequent one, creating some of the same spacing problems. And both aging players have declined defensively.
So while I'd be intrigued by Wade joining either of the Western Conference candidates for his services, I think teaming up with Anthony, George and Westbrook for the Thunder makes the most sense in basketball terms.