On the first day A.D. (After Dwyane), it was hard to find anyone who was truly happy.
Dwyane Wade? Not especially. This isn’t really what he or his family wanted, and Thursday morning — as he wearily but cheerily cohosted with Kelly Ripa on ABC — he appeared uncomfortable in his new reality, and not just because he was lowering a literal bed of nails on one of the show’s guests, prior to being coerced to croon the chorus of Magic’s Rude in his cracking voice.
Why you gotta be so rude?
Don’t you know I’m human too?
Who’s happy? Chicago basketball fans? Doesn’t seem so, at least not in the overwhelming majority you’d assume, considering they will be welcoming home the kid made good from Robbins, Illinois. Instead, Bulls reporters were sieged on social media by Bulls supporters who expressed more confusion than euphoria considering that the franchise appeared to be taking the younger and fiscally leaner tack, only to add a 34-year-old on a two-year, $47.5 million deal to a point guard (Rajon Rondo) who isn’t an ideal complement.
Who’s happy? The Heat? Well, that’s not completely clear. Content? Perhaps more than you’ll ever hear publicly, especially as the team plans posthumous celebrations of the mayor of Wade County, who is returning to the region for a basketball camp this weekend. We can argue details, as feelings became facts on both sides. But this is clear: Whether Pat Riley was told not to contact Wade directly during the process, or whether he chose not to communicate, characterizing the Heat’s overall approach as passive-aggressive would be putting it lightly. It came off as nearer neglect than respect to the person it was trying — or not trying — to retain.
Remember Wade in the huddle before routing the Spurs in Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals:
“To the last minute! To the last second! We fight! We fight! We fight! Let’s go!”
So what happened just before the era’s end, as the Bulls were closing in and Micky Arison was checking in before taking a cruise to Southampton, England?
“They didn’t even fight,” Wade messaged in the immediate aftermath.
Not to the last minute, the last second, or the last dollar.
So, are Heat fans happy?
Well, it depends which segment you’re speaking of. The diehards, those more attuned to salary-cap limitations, machinations and ramifications, seemed about evenly split, with a large share willing to accept the Heat’s viewpoint that it was simply not smart to trade an asset to create the cap space to increase the two-year offer or to tie up a third season.
The more casual fans, though?
They’ll actually be hurt most by this.
And that, more than anything, is why the Heat will be hurt by this.
Riley made basketball matter in this town. That’s undeniable, making his legacy unassailable. Since he has been running the Heat, for two dynamic decades we’ve seen him so many so-called local sports saviors — from Nick Saban to Jimmy Johnson to Mike Keenan to Bill Parcells to Ozzie Guillen — slip in and out of town, some leaving their respective franchises worse for their work. Riley has endured, and often excelled.
But Wade — whom Riley chose fifth overall in the 2003 draft — is probably more responsible for making basketball first in this town, whether with his play, his persona or his mere presence, which contributed greatly to landing LeBron James and making Miami the greatest spectacle in all of international team sports for four seasons. Wade’s jersey, not one of Riley’s tailored suits, is what you see in every schoolyard, what one brother passes down to another; he still ranked 12th in jersey sales in the rankings released Thursday by the NBA.
Riley has earned the area’s ongoing respect and trust for so frequently, effectively executing his role as an executive.
But Wade earned Miami’s enduring love for being relatable and resilient and — at least in terms of always being on the roster — reliable. That relationship can’t really be replicated or replaced, not in the near term, not even as young players such as Hassan Whiteside and Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow may show promise. Winslow, after playing poorly at summer league Thursday, admitted he was shaken.
“I’m still not over it,” Winslow said.
Time typically heals. Eventually the impossibly mature 20-year-old might see the benefits of this, especially since he’s spoken of wanting to evolve into a franchise face. But for him, for everyone, this will get worse before it gets better. He’ll be pushed to do more, sooner, than if Wade had stayed, and he will struggle some for sure. Same for Richardson. Same, certainly, for Whiteside, who won’t be getting those lethal lobs and stern words from one of the game’s all-time greats. The fans, who have come to expect winning in Riley’s tenure, enough that so many — especially under age 40 — now put the Heat first among their sports preferences, might be pushed to the limits of their patience, especially if Riley’s promise of a “fun” and “fruitful” free agency falls flat again next summer.
They might even be pushed back to football, back to the Dolphins, who haven’t had a signature player since Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas retired — but at least aren’t competing with a franchise that got to take one for granted.
So, yeah, you might find happiness somewhere.
Somebody check on Stephen Ross.
He might be smiling.