Dwyane Wade knew what he was signing up for when he left Miami for Chicago in July. Or he thought he knew.
On Tuesday in Orlando, Wade told reporters he was unhappy with the Bulls’ record and would consider their progress when making the decision of whether to pick up his $23.8 million player option for next season.
After the Bulls’ 119-114 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday at the United Center, featuring one of the most epic meltdowns in recent franchise history, Wade unloaded on basically every teammate except for Jimmy Butler for not caring enough about winning. They combined for 73 points.
On Wednesday, the Bulls led for the first 45 minutes of the game. With three minutes to go, they led by 110-100. They gave up that lead in just over a minute as the Hawks embarked on a 19-2 run. Three straight Hawks 3-pointers — one from Paul Millsap, one from Dennis Schroder and one from Tim Hardaway, Jr. — brought Atlanta back within one, and some questionable play calls down the stretch (i.e. shots for players not named Wade or Butler) killed what would have been an enormously satisfying win over an Eastern Conference playoff rival.
Instead, the Bulls (23-24) are back below .500, and facing yet another crossroads in what’s rapidly looking like a lost season.
Both Wade and Butler gave memorable, unfiltered press conferences at their locker after the game.
“This game is more than just makes and missing,” Wade said. “I don’t know. Guys have to ask that question themselves. I’m not at home with people. But I don’t know if I see enough guys who really, really want it. Losses like this have to hurt them. I’m 35 years old. I have three championships. It shouldn’t hurt me more than it hurts these young guys. They have to want it. If they don’t want it, then we’ll show up and play Friday. Hopefully, we’ll win. If we don’t, then we go to dinner again and keep it going until the season is over. It has to change. It has to hurt inside to lose games like this. This shit should fucking hurt.”
“I don’t know what happened,” Wade said. “But you continue to be in these kinds of situations and lose games like this, you really don’t care enough. You don’t care enough. It’s got to mean that much to you to want to win. And it doesn’t. So I don’t know. I don’t know happened. I don’t know how you fix it. It just doesn’t mean enough for guys around here to want to win ball games. It pisses me off, but I can’t be frustrated and I can’t care too much for these guys. They got to care for themselves. We got to do better. We got to do better knowing where you shots coming and knocking them down. We got to do better knowing film, knowing your personnel. As a team, we got to do better, man.”
Consistency and attention to detail have been constant laments from Wade this season, but this night was particularly egregious because the loss represented a waste of the kind of performance the Bulls don’t often get from Wade in this situation. On the second night of a back-to-back, he scored 33 points on 14-of-24 shooting. Butler added 40 points of his own. Until the final two minutes, it looked like another superhuman effort from the two real Alphas would be enough.
But head coach Fred Hoiberg apparently called plays down the stretch for Paul Zipser and Nikola Mirotic, both of whom missed open 3s. All season, Wade and Butler have been telling their less-proven teammates to shoot when they’re open. But this time, Wade wasn’t having it.
“Me and Jimmy, coach puts the ball in our hands a lot to make plays, to make shots,” Wade said. “That’s our job. I think for the majority of the season we’ve done it when we counted, when we needed to. I can look at Jimmy and say Jimmy is doing his job. I think Jimmy can look at me and say Dwyane is doing his job. I don’t know if we can keep going down the line and be able to say that.”
Sometimes the truth hurts.
Butler has bailed the Bulls out time and time again this season, and he, too, wanted himself or Wade to have the chance to do it again on Wednesday. Both players seemed particularly perturbed at Mirotic, who shot a 3-pointer out of a timeout with 24 seconds left and the Bulls trailing 114-112. It wasn’t a bad look, but he could’ve swung the ball to Butler.
“I understand that if you’ve got an open shot, take it,” Butler said. “But at a point in the game like that, no offense but you gotta get the ball to your best players. That’s just how the game goes. Let it come down on my shoulders or D-Wade’s shoulders. Let us be the reason why. I understand if you’re open, yeah, shoot it. But at a time and place when a guy is making shots like he was and like I was. I felt like everything was going in that I put up there, It happens man, you just got to learn from it. I’m not mad at the shot selection. I just think there’s a time and place for all of that.”
Do the Bulls care enough? Butler is a notoriously tough judge of heart. So he’s not so sure.
“If you don’t come in this motherfucker pissed off after you lose any game, if you’re not pissed off that you lost, man, something is wrong,” Butler said. “This is your job. This is what you’re supposed to love to do, and I don’t think that everybody looks at it that way. I want to play with guys that care, guys that play hard, that want to do well for this organization. That want to win games, man. Do whatever it takes, just win. Who cares who is shining? When we’re winning everybody looks great, everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do. I don’t think that’s happening right now, I really don’t.”
There have a lot of these types of games this season, like the two consecutive non-competitive losses to the Milwaukee Bucks in December and the blown 21-point lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Tom Thibodeau’s return to the United Center. What some see as an isolated bad loss, Wade sees as a pattern that isn’t correcting itself anytime soon.
“I wish I could say that everyone in here is going to go home and not eat tonight,” Wade said. “I can’t say that. I wish I could, but I don’t know that they care enough. Games are supposed to hurt. You’re not supposed to sleep, you’re not supposed to want to talk to anybody. These games are supposed to hurt. I don’t know if that is in guys in this locker room. Hopefully they can prove me wrong, but I will challenge them to see if losses like this hurt. We can play bad, we can miss shots, but we’re having too many of these lapses. We’re having too many of these losses. This just can’t be acceptable if you want to do anything besides have an NBA jersey on and make some money. That’s all we’re doing right now.”
With just under a month to go until the trade deadline, it’s becoming clearer that this roster is not good enough to be a significant playoff threat. Maybe they’ll get in as a low seed and earn a first-round exit at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers or Toronto Raptors, or maybe they’ll miss the playoffs for a second straight year.
Butler, who has seen himself in no shortage of trade rumors in recent weeks, isn’t really interested in speculating.
“That’s not my job,” Butler said. “I don’t give a damn about no trade deadline. I just want to win now. Not later. Now.”
The Bulls haven’t doing much of that lately, and it’s starting to weigh on Wade and Butler. Whichever direction this season goes, the next two weeks will be telling.