Caught between the muscle of Chicago and Miami, Denver really didn’t stand much of a chance to land the future Hall of Famer and three-time champion, but Denver’s serious pursuit and Wade’s extremely complimentary tone about the Nuggets makes the idea of Wade in a Nuggets uniform linger longer than it reasonably should. So what would Denver look like this year if Wade had spurned the Miami Heat for Denver’s mountainous highs without any interference from the Bulls?
1) Denver would have a closer. As our own Andrew Feinstein says with Jeff Morton and Nate Timmons on the CSG podcast: this team with an alpha-dog would be killer. Feinstein says maybe the 4th-best team in the league, and whether you agree or disagree with that exact placement this team would be better positioned to attack the bigger dogs in the West.
An alpha player who has closed hundreds of games would be an immense help to this squad that has struggled in the close ones, and has blown leads that a veteran squad would never squander. Wade's 15 FGAs and 18 points per game would be reducing Mudiay's poor shots in those situations as well, helping Mudiay play within himself and reducing the late game errors. Denver would have a few more wins this year already, with more to come - just as the Bulls have been better with Wade than they were with Derrick Rose, despite the expected back-court congestion caused by adding Wade.
2) The backcourt would look a little different. Jameer Nelson would be gone for one thing. With Emmanuel Mudiay and Wade both capable of playing 30 minutes and bringing the ball up, Nelson wouldn’t be required as the hedge against playing Jamal Murray a ton as the lead point guard. That would lead to fewer minutes for Murray as well - though not as much of a change as you might think.
So far this year Wade has only played 30 minutes a game, while Jameer has logged 25+. Some of that is due to the variety of injuries to Gary Harris and Will Barton, but to this point not much would have changed. Malik Beasley might not be seeing the court at all, but he is a longer-term investment anyway.
3) Wade would have plenty to teach the youth. Wade is not just a veteran, he’s one of the greatest players of his generation. Just look at Jimmy Butler discussing how it’s been having Wade on his team:
"I'm talking to D-Wade before the game and he's just telling me how I have to approach the game," Butler told CBSSports.com. "You go out there with a killer instinct every night. Make them adjust to you. Go out with a full head of steam and show them why you are one of the best players on the floor. That's what I try to do every single night. If it's coming from him, there has to be some truth to it."
When All-Stars are taking advice from Wade, obviously Denver's young players would do the same. I'm sure the advice would not be the same for Mudiay that it is for Butler, but it would help Malone immensely to have that player on the court. No offense to Jameer Nelson, but whether or not he wants to be a mentor (and he stated this offseason very vehemently that it was not his main goal at the very least), simply put he is not Dwyane Wade.
4) The moves would not have been finished. The Nuggets came very close to adding Paul Millsap this offseason, and that would have been in addition to Wade. One of the great things about signing Wade as a free agent: he would not have cost any prospects or picks. It was just a cash deal, that would have been the best option for retaining future flexibility to add more players via trade. Players who want to play with Wade would have been willing to sign in free agency as well, and Denver would have been dealing from a position of strength.
5) Publicity. Even if we don't assume a trade or more free agent interest, Denver would be making more national news. Wade is having one of his better starts in several years and could have been doing it in a Denver uniform. The added cache of having a name and what would likely have been a winning early record on a hard schedule could have put Denver back on the map in the NBA - and would have put butts in seats to boot. Anyone who’s been to the half-empty Pepsi Center this year wouldn’t mind a few more fans around them.
It would have been interesting. These Nuggets remain incredibly interesting even with their rotational conundrums and vastly mismatched player timeframes because there is so much talent on the roster. Dwyane Wade would not have fit the timeframe for title contention that half the roster appears to be aimed at, but he might have helped to get them closer to the hump.
As he comes to town tonight, Denver will have the opportunity to show him - and the rest of the league - that they are as close to being a playoff-caliber team as Wade believed they were when he took that meeting with Denver in free agency. The one missing slot in the order is for an alpha dog, and the Nuggets are still taking resumes from all candidates - internal and external.