No, this was not the preferred course, not the way Dwyane Wade envisioned his Heat journey continuing, without the game’s best player alongside.
But Wade has handled the move gracefully – accepting an $8 million pay cut, never expressing displeasure about LeBron James bolting to Cleveland even after Wade opted out of a lucrative contract, and never attempting to persuade James to stay because of respect for his friend’s wishes.
Wade’s initial disappointment has been replaced by determination to prove his skills have not diminished.
“I need it, I need it,” he said Friday of doubts about whether he can handle a bigger load.
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Before the second day of his Fantasy Camp at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Wade spoke of needing something “to challenge you” later in your career. This will undoubtedly do it.
“I can’t go back five years,” Wade, 32, cautioned, two days after Heat president Pat Riley said Wade might be able to return to what he was before James arrived.
“I ain’t trying to go back five years,” Wade said. “If we all could, we would, but that’s not likely … I’m used to something from the last four years. Until we get into training camp and the preseason games, you really don’t know how it’s going to be yet.”
But he knows there will be more shots, assuredly a higher scoring average (he was at 26.6 the most recent season without James and 19.0 last season) and a greater need to stay healthy.
He missed 28 games last season, with 13 attributed to “rest” for his knees. Asked if he expects to play in 75-plus games, Wade indicated that is the plan.
He hopes coming to camp lighter will reduce some of the load on his knees. While declining to divulge details, he said his weight is lower than at the start of training camp last season and he will continue to lose more. He’s doing it by following the Paleo diet that was used last summer by Ray Allen, who recommended it to Wade and James.
Wade offered clarity on several issues involving free agency. He said based on instinct and discussions with James, he knew James would sign with Cleveland when they both disembarked from a Las Vegas to Miami flight on July 10, but that James did not tell him with certainty until the next day, shortly before his announcement.
“You can tell where someone’s heart is and what they’re thinking,” Wade said. “Me as his friend, I just support him. As crazy as that might sound, I’m supportive of my friends and doing what makes them happy. You’ve got to do what makes you happy, selfishly. The decision to go back home was that.”
He said the Heat never asked him to come to Las Vegas to recruit James and he was there merely to spend time with James and enjoy himself.
He said he did not opt out of the last two years and $42 million of his contract based on the belief James definitely would return. He said he did it to give himself and the team more flexibility, even though he told his agent early in the process that he would not consider offers from other teams.
Wade, who hopes to finish his career in Miami, took a two-year, $34 million contract instead of a longer deal because he wanted to give himself and the team more flexibility in 2016, when the cap could skyrocket to as high as $80 million, according to some projections. He trusts the organization will do right by him.
“I understand the position we’re in, [and] if you want the success you want, you have to give a little,” Wade said. “I’ve been the front-runner on that.”
He said after James announced his decision, he called Chris Bosh and Bosh said he needed another hour or so to decide, before opting for the Heat over Houston.
Wade said he called only one Heat free agent target: Pau Gasol. He called him twice because he loved the idea of adding Gasol to the Big Three. Gasol later signed with Chicago.
“Ownership has done a great job recovering from [James’ departure],” said Wade, who will marry longtime girlfriend Gabrielle Union on Aug. 30. “We have good talent.”
The Heat added a 13th player, signing 6-9 forward Shawne Williams to a guaranteed contract for $1.2 million next season, with a team option for 2015-16, according to agent Happy Walters.
Williams averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 36 games for the Lakers last season (including 13 starts), while shooting 38 percent from the field and 32.6 percent from three-point range (42 for 129). He also played 23 games in the NBA’s Development League.
He has appeared in 251 NBA games, including 36 starts, for five teams in six seasons.