There will be panic.
Dwyane Wade enters NBA free agency at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, and although most around the league believe the shooting guard ultimately will remain in Miami, the journey to that point might soon turn scary for the Heat. Wade isn’t happy with his team of 12 years right now, and although disrespect might not be the most accurate description of the future Hall of Famer’s current mood, that’s certainly closer to the truth than “#Heatlifer.”
Remember that social-media push? Last summer, after LeBron James left Miami for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat played heavy the loyalty card in part to help ticket sales. At the core of that marketing campaign was the “#Heatlifer” initiative, and Wade championed the company line. Now, a year later, Wade is preparing to meet with other teams.
How did it come to this? Why did Wade opt out of the final year on his contract, which would have paid him more than $16 million? Most importantly, what’s it going to take to keep Wade in Miami?
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Those questions will dominate the beginning of free agency. If Wade and the Heat can’t reach an agreement early in the process, then more questions will arise. For starters, who is going to replace Wade if he leaves? On Tuesday, one name surfaced hours before free agency even started. Mavericks shooting guard Monta Ellis might be on the Heat’s radar if Wade splits.
Wade is the biggest name in free agency, but it’s unclear at this point how much he might command on the open market. Other players will be more valued. LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers is the big prize with free agents such as LeBron James, Kevin Love, Tim Duncan and Goran Dragic expected to be re-signed by their current teams.
Dragic, the Heat’s point guard, is expected to sign a five-year deal for around $100 million. That would make Wade the second-highest paid player in his own backcourt and the third-highest paid player on his team. Oddly enough, Wade has never been the Heat’s highest-paid player.
Next year, Wade might well be fourth in salary on his own team if center Hassan Whiteside re-signs. The Heat appears committed to Whiteside, whom team president Pat Riley views as a building block. Ensuring the center’s future with the team is just one of the factors the Heat must consider this week as it negotiates with Wade.
The more money the Heat saves on Wade now, the thinking goes, the more the team can offer Whiteside next season.
To that end, the Heat wanted Wade to exercise the player option on the final year of his contract and opt in, a move that would have given the franchise the most flexibility next summer when the league’s salary cap is expected to jump by $25 million. Instead, Wade wants a new guaranteed deal. On the surface, that decision reveals some trust issues between player and team at the start of free agency.
Wade has signed with the Heat at a discount several times, most recently last summer when he opted out of his contract to help keep Chris Bosh. Before that, Wade took slightly less money than the league maximum in 2010 to help the Heat surround Bosh and James with role players.
Wade, now 33, thinks he deserves some loyalty pay. Just how much the Heat could actually pay is where things might get a little tense during contract talks. It was reported Tuesday that Wade might consider a three-year contract for $47 million. There are other possibilities as well, including Wade taking a one-year deal.
Whatever the number, it would serve the Heat well to have things over quickly. The delay caused by Wade’s free agency might cost the Heat vital time to recruit a veteran or two to Miami for next season. After all, the Heat needs an outside shooter to complement the offense, and another point guard wouldn’t hurt either. If Wade re-signs with the Heat, the team could use the collective-bargaining agreement’s $3.5 million exception to sign some quality depth.
If Wade leaves, that amount might be used to find his replacement. In other words, let the panic begin.
Heat second-round draft pick Josh Richardson, a senior from the University of Tennessee, had an introductory news conference Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Richardson, who can play both backcourt positions, called this week the best of his life. He will compete with the Heat’s summer-league team in Orlando beginning this weekend.