The emotional conclusion of the Miami Heat’s free agency saga came to a defiant end Tuesday with Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem agreeing to deals with the only NBA team they’ve ever played for.
Wade came to terms with the Heat and then sent out a message on Twitter calling Miami “home.” The Heat’s starting shooting guard left $42 million on the table in June when he opted out of the last two years on his previous contract. His new two-year deal reportedly is for $34 million.
“Home Is Where The Heart Is,” Wade wrote. “My Home, My City, My House#HeatLifer.”
According to reports, Haslem, 34, was set to agree to a two-year deal worth $2.732 million the first year. Haslem opted out of a contract in June that would have paid him $4.6 million next season. The Heat was expected to file Haslem’s deal under the collective bargaining agreement’s “room” exception, but nothing was official Tuesday night.
If the Heat uses the space-exception mechanism provided by the CBA on Haslem, then the team likely will be filling in the remainder of its roster with veteran’s minimum deals.
THE LOYALTY FACTOR
Home, happiness and loyalty have been themes throughout the week for Wade, the Heat and LeBron James, who on Friday called the pull of home more powerful than the tug of what he helped build in Miami. James, Wade and Chris Bosh beat a path to the NBA Finals for four straight years and won two of the past three NBA championships.
Now, the next time they’re on the court together, it will be as opponents. Wade and Bosh give the Heat a strong core entering next season, and James will be the leader of a young but talented roster in Cleveland.
“I am proud to have spent every single day of my career as a member of the Miami Heat and to have brought three championship titles to this great city,” Wade said in a statement. “I’ve been here through the good times and the hard times. I have confidence in the Miami Heat organization and the team they are building. To all the Heat fans, in Miami and around the world, I know you will continue to show support for our team.”
Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement: “Dwyane has been the franchise cornerstone for this team since the day he arrived 11 years ago. He has shown his commitment to the Heat many times over the course of his career and has always been willing to sacrifice in order to help build this team into a champion. This time is no different.”
Wade, one of the top scorers in the league when he’s fully healthy, was the main reason James left Cleveland for Miami in 2010, but the Heat’s co-captain couldn’t keep James with the Heat after Miami lost to the Spurs in the NBA Finals. The Spurs defeated the Heat 4-1 in the best-of-7 series and Wade averaged 15.2 points in 34 minutes per game.
“You can criticize him on his performance, but I can guarantee you this: he isn’t a ‘what have you done for me lately’ guy or a ‘Johnny Do Nothing,’ ” Riley said of Wade before the start of free agency. “He’s not that. That’s an insult. That’s an insult for a guy that since 2003 has made magic for us.”
CHANGING THE LANDSCAPE
Wade has been the Heat’s ultimate engineer since being drafted fifth overall in 2003 behind James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony and Bosh. First, Wade made the Heat instantly competitive as a rookie sensation. He then teamed with Shaquille O’Neal to bring the Heat and Miami its first NBA title in 2006. The second act of his career brought James and Bosh into the fold and landed the City of Miami right smack in the middle of basketball nirvana.
“From 2003 on, our world in South Florida in basketball has changed,” Riley said. “You think Shaquille would have come to Miami if Dwyane wasn’t here? No. We would not have had that. So, for the last 10 years, this has been a Dwyane Wade-driven thing.”
Added Riley about Wade: “He’s a champion. He’s a world champion, and he’s a Miami Heat for life. He’s an icon. He’s one of the great players in the world.”
With the third act of his career now beginning, there already are signs that Wade, 32, has started adapting in ways that could smooth his transition from superstar in his prime to productive veteran. Wade apparently has started a paleo diet this summer on the advice of Ray Allen and has also been working on his jumper.
Wade has put up amazingly efficient numbers each of the past two seasons – shooting 52.1 percent and a career-high 54.5 percent from the floor, respectively – but the most recent memory Heat fans have is of Wade shooting a combined 7 for 25 in the final two games against the Spurs and struggling on defense.
“Like every single minute in every single game, he’s examined more than anybody else and so he had a couple bad games, OK, in the Finals,” Riley said. “Now does he have to reinvent himself a little bit. Sure.”
Motivation to fuel that reinvention certainly will not be in short supply now.