CHICAGO -- Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade said Thursday that while the Chicago Bulls are a great team, they might be one player away from being an annual championship contender.
"They met us in the Eastern Conference finals, and they were one player away from making it a very, very, very tough series," Wade told ESPNChicago.com during an event for his "Wade's World" charities. "Derrick Rose is evolving into a phenomenal player. You could look and see they're one player away from being there every year."
The Bulls went 3-0 vs. the Heat during the regular season and notched the NBA's best record at 62-20. But Miami found its rhythm as the season progressed and free-agent additions LeBron James and Chris Bosh sharpened their chemistry with Wade. After losing the first game of the conference finals, the Heat swept the next four to advance to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the Dallas Mavericks.
Wade has a pretty good idea as to what type of player the Bulls should pursue, and it's not a surprise. Bulls fans clamored for a shooting guard who could help take the pressure off Rose.
"It would have to be a player that can take the pressure off him from making every play," Wade said. "As a point guard, when you have to score so much, and have to make every big shot, and have to make all the passes, eventually it takes a toll on you throughout the season, no matter how phenomenal you are.
"So just someone who can come in and take some of that pressure away. That's why I was excited not only to play with my friend but excited to play with a guy like LeBron, because it takes some of that pressure away from having to do it year after year after year. It saves you, your body."
Many Bulls fans were hoping Wade, who is a Chicago area native, would be that guy to play alongside Rose. The Bulls courted Wade as a free agent last summer, but he chose to remain in Miami.
"I was very serious about wanting to play in Chicago," Wade said. "I visualized myself being alongside Derrick Rose many times and Joakim Noah and all those guys many times.
"It didn't happen, but you never know what the outcome would be. Obviously they did a great job."
As a result, the hometown hero is treated as a villain when Wade and the Heat play at the United Center. Wade said he takes that reception as a sign of respect, and his extensive charitable ventures in Chicago reflect his love for the city.
Wade also understands the evolution Rose is experiencing.
"I see a lot of things he did, and I look back and say, 'that was me before,' or 'that was LeBron before, that was Kobe [Bryant] before.' Michael Jordan did the same thing," Wade said. "A lot of greats go through it.
"Then eventually, they put the teammates around you that can help you, and you get better and you learn that you can't do it all yourself. You start to open a little more and let your teammates do a little more and get them more confident. I see it, yeah."
But Wade didn't see Rose's evolution coming last season -- at least not to that extent, despite the fact Rose was an All-Star in his second season.
"Obviously I knew he had so much talent and how athletic he was, but that summer from the [World Championships] to when the season started, he changed his game dramatically," Wade said. "His confidence went to another level and he became a player around the league where everybody was like, 'Oh man, he figured it out. He figured it out early.'
"He became the MVP of the league and he's still the same guy, a phenomenal person and human being. He makes you proud to say you're from Chicago."
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.