Analysis: Will Dwyane Wade joining Utah Jazz ownership make the team more competitive on the free agent market?
13-time All-Star now owns piece of the Jazz franchise. What impact might it have on the team?
Three-time NBA champion and 13-time All-Star Dwyane Wade now owns a piece of the Utah Jazz.
When the news dropped on Friday that Wade was joining Ryan Smith and the Jazz’s new ownership group, there was a very understandable and natural reaction from the fan base and many pundits across the NBA.
The first thought that crossed most minds was, with the star power that Wade brings, what could that mean for the small-market Jazz and their ability to lure stars to Salt Lake City?
In a matter of minutes following the announcement, Jazz fans rejoiced, as if it were a foregone conclusion that Wade will be able to woo players who previously might have overlooked the Jazz as a playing destination.
On the surface, that makes sense. Wade is a mentor to many young players, including Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell. Wade is widely regarded as one of his generation’s greatest players, and he’s respected throughout the league. He is revered for his philanthropic work, for his entrepreneurial ventures and for his post-retirement basketball acumen as an analyst for TNT.
Wade told ESPN that he wants to be involved in “a lot of things” when it comes to his role as an owner of the Jazz but what exactly that means, and whether it can bear out any of the fruit that fans may be hoping for, is still uncertain.
Before Wade can even begin to be involved in any sort of basketball operations, including possible recruiting or free-agent meetings, he would have to end his relationship with TNT. Like former players Shaquille O’Neal and Grant Hill, who work as hosts and analysts for TNT and NBA TV respectively, Wade will be barred from taking part in any basketball operation involvement while working as an analyst, as to not violate the NBA’s anti-tampering rules.
But, even if Wade ends his working relationship with TNT, it does not guarantee that him being a part of the Jazz ownership group will have any impact on what the Jazz are able to do in free agency.
“A lot of this is in its formative stages and it’s probably not for me to try to wax philosophical about all the the various impacts of this,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said Friday. “But I will say it is significant, and I think that’s part of the reason that Dwyane looked at this opportunity as one where he can be impactful on multiple levels. There’s no one sphere.”
Wade is the fifth former player to join the NBA ownership ranks along with the aforementioned O’Neal and Hill, as well as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan.
Jordan first purchased a stake in the Washington Wizards in 2000 before selling when he came out of retirement the following year. In 2006, he purchased a minority share of the Charlotte Hornets and then in 2010, Jordan became the majority owner of the Hornets (then Bobcats).
Hill is part of the ownership group that purchased the Atlanta Hawks in 2015 and O’Neal has been minority owner with the Sacramento Kings since 2013. Johnson became a minority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1994 but sold his 4.5% stake in 2010.
Jordan, Hill, O’Neal and Johnson are all Hall of Fame players and Wade, who becomes eligible for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2023, is a lock for induction as well. But, to this point, having NBA star power in an ownership position has not had much of an impact on free agency or the success of a team.
Hill became an owner of the Hawks in April 2015, just a month before the Hawks were swept in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Hawks have not made the playoffs in the last three years.
The Kings were sold to Vivek Ranadive in May 2013 and O’Neal purchased a stake in the team in September of that same year. The move was seen as a part of the Kings trying to overhaul their image and reputation in the league, but they have continued to struggle to land top-tier free agents and haven’t been to the playoffs in 14 years, a league-leading drought.
Perhaps no star has more power than Jordan, but his ownership of the Hornets has not yielded anything that reflects his influence on the basketball world. Since joining the Charlotte ownership group in 2006 then taking over majority ownership in 2010, Charlotte has made just three playoff appearances, losing in the first round each time, and hasn’t been viewed as a destination for star players.
Johnson’s time as a minority owner with the Lakers can’t really be compared in the same way since Los Angeles would be a premier NBA destination no matter the ownership, coaching or status of the team.
The difference between all of the previous examples and Wade joining Jazz ownership is the status of the team and current star power already on the roster.
No other former-player-turned-owner has come in when the team was on the rise, having made the playoffs in multiple preceding seasons and atop the NBA standings as the Jazz are currently.
Additionally, the Jazz had three All-Stars this season in Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley. Mitchell and Gobert have both signed extensions to stay with the Jazz long term, and there doesn’t seem to be a rebuild or major flipping of assets on the horizon. If Wade does become involved in recruiting or free-agent meetings, his presence, along with the upside of the team, could give the Jazz more leverage, but there’s not a precedent for that in the NBA, so at this point it’s just speculation.
Another piece of the speculative puzzle involves the even longer term future of Mitchell. The Jazz’s leading scorer signed a five-year max contract extension in November, a deal that includes a player option after the fourth year.
When the details of Mitchell’s extension were reported, many fans worried that the player option was a signal that Mitchell would be leaving rather than opting to stay in Utah. But Mitchell’s relationship with Wade seems to have alleviated some of those worries.
“Players are in such a unique experience that there really aren’t a lot of people in their peer groups that they can turn to,” Snyder said. “(Former players) can understand some of the things that they’re going through, so it’s just another example of the potential role that someone with (Wade’s) experience can fill, and obviously that’s something that’s been valuable to Donovan.”
Mitchell has been training in the offseason with Wade since 2018 and has been modeling his game after the future first-ballot Hall of Famer for years. Their bond goes beyond just being fellow NBA players and has extended into mentorship and friendship.
To that point, if Wade’s influence has any impact on the duration of Mitchell’s career in a Jazz uniform, that could in turn be a draw in the future for top-tier talent.
Though there’s no precedent for any of this, and although other former players becoming part owners of teams hasn’t resulted in offseason or even in-season success to this point, Wade could be the player that changes that tide.
At this point though, all of this falls into the category of what could or might be. Add it to the list of things that only time will tell.