Nobody might be happier about Dwyane Wade coming back to the Miami Heat than Udonis Haslem.
In fact, go ahead and mark it down. Nobody is happier about Wade, 36, heading home than his best friend.
“I bet you probably want to hear me say I knew it all the time, don’t you?” Haslem said through a grin Thursday outside the Heat’s locker room inside AmericanAirlines Arena. “No, it’s good, man. I’m happy for him. I’m happy to have the opportunity to play the game of basketball with him and compete with him, to lead with him. The guys are excited about the opportunity. Hank is still doing his job from above.”
Hank was Haslem and Wade’s longtime agent, Henry Thomas, who passed away late last month. Haslem, 37, left the team before Thomas died to spend time with him. Then he left again to attend his funeral alongside Pat Riley. Wade was there too. Together, Haslem and Wade got to spend a lot of time together mourning Thomas’ passing. They’ve spent a lot of time talking in the days since.
Now, they’re teammates again and Haslem believes Thomas played a factor in that happening.
“We kind of feel like we spoke it into existence a little bit,” Haslem said. “This is something him and I talked about playing together. But we didn’t see it happening so soon. We figured it would probably be next year. Take it step by step and figure it out this summer. But everything happens for a reason.”
The reason the Heat wanted this reunion is simple: Wade can still play and with Dion Waiters out for the season, Tyler Johnson struggling and Wayne Ellington ailing with a right shoulder injury, help was needed at shooting guard. The three-time champion and 11-time All-Star can help Miami in its playoff push. He was averaging 11.2 points while shooting 45.5 percent from the field and averaging 3.5 assists in Cleveland this season.
He also has the added bonus of having played with more than just Haslem. There are still six of Wade’s former teammates on the roster from the last Heat team to reach the playoffs with him, which lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals two seasons ago: Haslem, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic.
“I can see him fitting in right away,” Haslem said of Wade. “When you know how to play the game of basketball, you know how to play the game of basketball. Things haven’t changed too much offensively since he’s left and defensively our principles are our principles. I think he will fit right in. I think it will be good for our guys offensively, a guy who can get in the paint, create and get other guys shots.
“He’s excited,” Haslem continued. “He’s looking forward to it. It’s a lot of things that factor in, not just coming home. But his son is playing high school basketball. He’s never been with away from his kids playing in another city. His kids were with him this year in Chicago and he was in Cleveland. There’s a lot of things that factor in to him coming back and doing this.”
The Heat, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, are clinging to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and are only a game up on Philadelphia and Detroit.
“I think it’s great timing for something like this to happen,” Haslem said. “The guys are excited and looking forward to the opportunity to play with a great one. I think D-Wade understands that even though he has the opportunity to still play and there’s a lot of gas in the tank that he can have an impact on these guys beyond the game of basketball.
“I guess I can share my city with him again,” Haslem said as he laughed. “This city loves Wade. Regardless of him leaving, he’s done a tremendous amount of good around here and people still love him. I’m sure they’re just as excited to have him back as we are.”
Haslem said he and Wade had been discussing a reunion after this season. It’s always been their plan to play their final seasons together. This, obviously, pushes that calendar up.
“He promised me, but I wasn’t going to hold him to it,” Haslem said of he and Wade reuniting. “It was looking kind of shaky for a while, so I said I’m just going to leave that one alone and we’ll take another promise. But it’s good to have him back, man. It’s going to be fun.
“More so than anything, me personally having him back, I appreciate having somebody back to help lead this group of guys. We have a lot of talent. We have all the tools that we need. We just got to continue to lead these guys and continue to point them in the right direction. Not just teach them, but show them what it is to be a champion.”