Dwyane Wade decided to leave Miami after 13 seasons to come home to Chicago, hoping his arrival would help galvanize the Bulls team he grew up watching.
The fairy tale gave way to a much harsher reality this season, with the Bulls plagued by locker room discord and frustration between the team leaders and the front office. That Wade's first season is ending 14 games early because of a fractured right elbow only makes it more painful.
An MRI on Thursday revealed a fractured bone and ligament damage in Wade's elbow, ruling him out for the rest of the regular season. With the Bulls (32-36) sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and having lost six of their last seven games, the playoffs are looking less likely by the day.
"It's not the way I would've written it," Wade told reporters after the injury was announced. "But it is what it is."
Wade was injured in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's loss to Memphis when he collided with Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph. He said after the game that he felt "a couple of pops" and the elbow was briefly dislocated.
Wade averaged 18.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. He has teamed with All-Star Jimmy Butler to try to provide scoring and veteran leadership to a team seemingly in transition. He spoke loudly earlier in the season about demanding more from youngsters like Denzel Valentine, Jerian Grant and Bobby Portis.
Fellow veteran Rajon Rondo took exception to the approach and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has had a difficult time trying to control the situation.
Wade's scoring average is his lowest since his rookie season and 43.4 percent shooting is the lowest of his career. But his 31.5 percent from 3-point range is the second-best mark of his career.
Hoiberg said that Wade's injury does not change the immediate goal to make the playoffs and there was no plan to rest other veterans like Butler down the stretch. As bad as things have gone, the Bulls are right on the heels of Miami and Detroit, both at 33-35, for the eighth seed.
"It'll be an even better story with me out of it," Wade said. "It's a challenge for (Butler). And I look forward to see how he rises to the challenge."
Wade signed a two-year deal that he can opt out of this summer if he chooses to do so. He said on Thursday that it was still too early to say what he would forgo $23.8 million next season to become a free agent.
Wizards coach Scott Brooks didn't write Chicago off without Wade.
"They still have a good team," he said. "It's unfortunate that the injury took place. ... You have to somehow rally the troops and make it work the best that you can as an organization. Obviously they have a tall order at hand with him out, but they still can win games."