After making a run at former league MVP Kevin Durant and watching him leave Oklahoma City to form a super team with the Golden State Warriors, the Miami Heat turned its attention Monday to Dwyane Wade, offering him a two-year, $40 million contract it hopes will smooth things over and keep the 12-time All-Star from leaving.
Wade has yet to accept the offer, which includes a player option for the second season of the contract that would allow him to re-enter free agency next summer when the league’s salary cap is expected to jump from $94 million to a projected $107 million. Wade, who flew back from vacation in Europe on Monday, has told associates he plans to be patient before reaching a final decision.
Sources say Wade, who turns 35 in January and has guided the Heat to three NBA titles and five Finals appearances, would prefer a three-year deal, something he sought last summer with the Heat before owner Micky Arison stepped in and convinced him to sign a one-year deal at $20 million. Wade has reportedly made it known to suitors he will not play for less than $20 million next season, the same salary he made last season with the Heat.
Coming off a season in which he only missed seven games because of injury and posted quality playoff numbers (21.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists), Wade wasn’t happy with the first offer ($10 million) the Heat dangled him before the start of free agency last Friday. But that preliminary deal was contingent on if the Heat was able to sign Durant.
Regardless, Miami’s initial offer to Wade opened the door to him exploring other deals with potential suitors. The Vertical reported last week there were as many as four teams — the Bulls, Bucks, Mavericks and Nuggets — discussing multiyear deals with Wade’s representatives at over $20 million per season. The Knicks were also reportedly interested.
But as free agency has rolled on, those suitors have invested their cap space into other free agents.
The Nuggets, however, remain armed with $28 million in cap space and are not only courting Wade but also close friend and Heat teammate Udonis Haslem, whom Miami seems reluctant to pay anything more than the veteran minimum. Haslem wants the Heat to sign him for the $2.9 room exception.
Wade spent last week on vacation off the coast of Spain with former Olympic teammates LeBron James and Chris Paul and was flying to New York on Monday to begin spending the week participating in sponsor events. He’s also slated to cohost Live with Kelly Ripa on Thursday morning.
Between those events Wade is expected to also begin taking meetings with other teams. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wade will meet with the Bucks on Wednesday. A Chicago native, Wade attended Marquette University in Milwaukee. The Bucks, though, only have $11 million in cap space and would have to make a trade to accommodate Wade’s salary request.
By offering Wade what it has left available in its salary cap, the Heat would only have the $2.9 million room exception and NBA minimum contracts left to fill out its roster. And with the amount of money still out there for other teams to spend, there simply are not going to be many quality options willing to sign for the league minimum.
HEAT’S OPTIONS SHRINKING
The Heat has seven players locked up for next season: center Hassan Whiteside, forwards Chris Bosh, Justise Winslow and Josh McRoberts and guards Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson and Briante Weber.
To this point, the only player Miami has reached an agreement with in free agency has been Whiteside, who happily accepted a four-year, $98 million max contract on Friday.
Three other key rotation players from last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal playoff team, meanwhile, have reached agreements with other teams. Forward Luol Deng, a two-year starter, agreed to a four-year, $72 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, swingman Joe Johnson struck a two-year, $22 million agreement with the Utah Jazz and combo guard Tyler Johnson agreed to sign a four-year, $50 million offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets when the league’s moratorium ends on Thursday.
The Heat has three days to match the offer to Johnson, who is a restricted free agent. But he’s likely not to be retained because the final two years of the deal he agreed to with the Nets would require the Heat to pay him more than $18 and $19 million each season.
The problem for the Heat isn’t paying Wade close to $19 million to stay home next season in a year when the Warriors and Cavaliers look destined to meet in the NBA Finals for a third year in a row. For the Heat and team president Pat Riley, the issue is making a significant financial commitment to Wade beyond this coming season.
The 2017 free agent class is loaded and includes two-time league MVP Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Durant’s All-Star teammate from Oklahoma City, Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokoumpo, Chris Paul, C.J. McCollum, Andre Iguodala and fringe stars Gordon Hayward and Serge Ibaka.
If the Heat holds onto the seven players it has under contract for next season and adds Wade at $20 million, Miami would have $97 million in committed salaries, leaving only $10 million in cap space to spend in free agency.
As it stands, it’s going to be difficult for the Heat to contend next season. Although LeBron James and the defending NBA champion Cavaliers are not expected to match a Bucks offer to backup point guard Matthew Dellavedova, the core of that team is expected back. Playoff teams like the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks, meanwhile, have retooled and added to their rosters.
Durant’s decision to join the Warriors Monday only makes an already scary 73-win team with Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green even more dangerous in the Western Conference.
Durant, a four-time scoring champion and former league MVP, could end up teaming up with those three Warriors All-Stars for years to come.
“The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction,” Durant wrote on the Players Tribune website for whom he serves as deputy publisher.
“But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”