Justise Winslow couldn’t hide his feelings Thursday.
Losing Dwyane Wade as a teammate hurts. And right now, it’s not easy for one of the most important pieces of Miami’s future to process it all.
“It’s just one of those things where it’s not so much about me having to step up or me taking on a bigger role or losing Dwyane, it’s just the fact that not too often you get to have one of the greatest of all-time on your team,” Winslow said after admitting Wade’s surprising departure to the Chicago Bulls late Wednesday night shook him mentally and led to a dreadful 3-for-17 shooting performance in a Summer League game Thursday.
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“I’m sure guys in L.A. are saying the same about Kobe. Different guys changing teams — guys in Oklahoma City. It’s not too often you play with one of the greats. I think that’s the part that shook me the most — losing that mentor, that friend. But I think I’ll get over it soon.”
While Wade thanked Miami Heat fans, employees and teammates and then declared on Twitter tat South Florida “will always be Wade County” to him, the only franchise the 12-time All-Star has ever played for began life without him for the first time in 13 years.
The Heat’s divorce from Wade began Thursday, with his No. 3 jersey being replaced on mannequins inside the team store at AmericanAirlines Arena with those of Hassan Whiteside (No. 21), Justise Winslow (20) and Josh Richardson (0). It will continue Friday with a liquidation sale.
While the Heat has lined up “a series of activities” meant to recognize the future Hall of Famer’s contributions (three championships, five trips to the Finals), all team stores will be selling Wade merchandise at $13 a pop. It’s meant to honor the 13 years Wade spent with the franchise.
In addition, full color ads featuring Wade in his iconic “This is My House” pose will run in South Florida’s three major newspapers, accompanied by a series of photos, videos and vignettes that will pay homage to Wade online and on a jumbo screen outside the arena.
For now, that’s how the Heat plans to recognize Wade, who will still be in South Florida this weekend to host his annual basketball camp.
How Miami plans to replace his leadership and on-court presence is another issue entirely.
Thursday, Whiteside officially signed the four-year, $98 million max contract he agreed to a week ago, securing the league’s leading shot blocker from a year ago. Later, Miami announced it had also signed former Development League shooting guard Rodney McGruder, who brings three-point touch, a strong defensive approach and the experience of having already played in the Heat’s system with Miami’s D-League affiliate Sioux Falls.
Though terms of the deal were not disclosed, a source confirmed a report by The Vertical McGruder’s deal is a three-year partially guaranteed contract.
With Whiteside and McGruder signed, the Heat has nine players under contract for next season. The only players on the roster with more than two full seasons of NBA experience are forwards Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts, and point guard Goran Dragic.
While having a lack of experience is one thing, the loss in production is also another. Along with Wade, fellow starters Luol Deng (Los Angeles) and Joe Johnson (Utah) are also gone. They were three of the top five scorers on the team.
“It’s not going to be one guy making up for D-Wade being gone or Joe being gone or Lu being gone, all the guys returning [have to],” Winslow said. “I think we’re going to have different guys step up each night. As far as that leadership, we’re all going to have to do that together. But it’s a lot I learned from [Wade] in one year. I’m really thankful for that experience.”
With $20 million in cap space, the Heat will more than likely fill out its roster with cap friendly contracts, which would allow the team to remain flexible in free agency next summer when stars like Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are set to hit the market.
The Heat has until Sunday to decide if it wants to match the four-year, $50-million offer sheet Tyler Johnson signed with the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. The problem for Miami — and the reason the Heat will likely pass and allow Johnson to walk — is the $18 million and $19 million hits the Heat would take in the final two seasons of the deal.
His replacement could end up being the 25-year-old McGruder, who has spent the last three years trying to crack an NBA roster. He averaged 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists with Sioux Falls, which won the D-League league title. McGruder shot 39 percent from three-point range, 51.3 percent overall and scored 30 points or more in three of Sioux Falls’ seven playoff games last season.
“Rodney is tough as they come,” said Richardson, who played with McGruder some in Sioux Falls last season. “I think he fits the Heat way perfectly. He’s never afraid of a challenge. He plays hard every minute he’s on the floor and he approaches the game the right way. I think he’s a great addition to our team.”