Pfund shares the inside story of Wade and the 2003 NBA draft
When Randy Pfund helped orchestrate an NBA title in 2006 as general manager of the Miami Heat, it was mostly a coincidence that the team's top two scorers in the Finals were Chicago natives -- Dwyane Wade from Richards High School and Antoine Walker from Mt. Carmel.
Pfund graduated from Wheaton North before playing for his father, Lee, at Wheaton College. He first landed in the NBA as an assistant coach under Pat Riley with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985. He later joined Riley in Miami and was the Heat's GM until 2008.
Now that he's essentially retired from the NBA, Pfund is able to shed some light on the 2003 draft, when Wade was chosen by Miami with the fifth pick.
Bulls vice president John Paxson has said he went into that night expecting Wade to be there for the Bulls at No. 7. It has long been rumored that Riley preferred center Chris Kaman, who ended up going sixth to the Clippers.
"The story on that one was we needed a point guard or a big man," Pfund said in a phone interview. "The point guard in that draft was T.J. Ford. We got wind of the spinal problems he had and our doctors pretty much said, 'From our perspective, he's a no-draft.' That kind of took him off the board.
"Pat, all his success had been built around big men. The year before we had drafted Caron Butler, who had an OK first year, and Pat was like, 'Why do we want to draft another wing? We need a big or a point guard,' which I agreed with, a lot of other people agreed with."
Riley had coached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the Lakers, Patrick Ewing in New York and Alonzo Mourning in Miami. So it made sense to think big.
Pfund said when Heat management visited Chicago for a Kaman workout, Wade happened to be shooting baskets on the other end of the court. Riley had not seen Wade in person, but once the connection was made, he was intrigued and impressed with Wade's physique.
"Pat wanted Kaman to be the guy, but even he had some worries about that," Pfund said. "He wanted to draft a point guard, but there were issues with T.J. Dwyane kind of became the guy most of us liked. I liked him pretty strong, (Heat coach) Stan (Van Gundy) liked him.
"The day that Wade worked out, we had (Louisville guard) Reece Gaines work out that day, and I can tell you three or four people voted for Reece Gaines ahead of Dwyane. He was probably a better perimeter shooter than Dwyane, but he did not have the change of direction that Dwyane had. In a one-day workout, you see a guy hit some 3s. Wade did not shoot the ball well the day we worked him out."
For the record, Gaines was chosen 15th that year by Orlando and played just 71 games in the NBA. Pfund acknowledged the people who liked Gaines over Wade were mostly coaching types who based their decision on a single workout.
When all was said and done, Pfund insisted no one had to talk Riley into picking Wade. It was a typical draft process with plenty of discussion and differing opinions.
Of course, the 2003 draft turned out to be one of the best in NBA history. LeBron James went first, Carmelo Anthony third, Chris Bosh fourth, then Wade and Kaman before the Bulls settled on Kirk Hinrich, who wasn't a bad consolation prize at No. 7.
The biggest blunder was Detroit, less than a year away from winning the championship, taking Darko Milicic with the second pick. There also are plenty of what-ifs. Pfund said a friend who coached in Toronto at the time told him the Raptors seriously considered taking Michael Sweetney instead of Bosh.
"The one thing good about us, there was no doubt who was making the decisions for us, and that was Pat," Pfund said. "I never made a decision over Pat's head for 13 years. I ran everything by him that I could. Yes, I told him that I thought (the right pick) was Wade. It was his choice. If he wanted to go with Kaman, he could have.
"I was in a draft room when the choice was Vlade Divac or Gary Leonard, a center from Missouri. It was 5-0, all the Lakers scouts, for this other guy. Jerry West presses the button to talk to Chick Hearn, who was at the draft, and says, 'We'll pick Vlade Divac.' It was Jerry's call.
The Heat ended up winning two more championships by collecting three of the top five picks from 2003 -- Wade, James and Bosh. The Bulls had Hinrich and Sweetney at one point, but it wasn't nearly enough.
Wade finished off a pleasant ending to his 16-year NBA career by returning to Miami after jumping to the Bulls for one season and then Cleveland. He was also able to go out in fairly impressive fashion, averaging 15.0 points at age 37.
"You know how many times the end of your career can be a little ugly," Pfund said. "And it got a little ugly when he left (Miami). I give him credit for never lashing out. He got the payback when things fell apart in Cleveland to come back and close it out as part of the Heat. Pretty smart kid. I'm proud of him."
It made sense that Wade would play well in his final season. Among his generation of players, he might be the leader when it comes to wanting to project a positive image.
"I don't know where that necessarily comes from," Pfund said. "Henry Thomas was a good agent for him. I think he learned a lot from watching Michael Jordan."
And the statue of Wade will be built in Miami, not Chicago, thanks to the events of June 26, 2003.
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