Dwyane Wade and the Heat agreed to a new contract on Thursday that arguably gives the team the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference.
News of Wade’s deal for one year at $20 million came one day after the Heat locked up point guard Goran Dragic for five years and $90 million.
With those two players in the fold, the Heat can now begin preparing in earnest for a return to prominence after losing LeBron James last summer. The Heat missed the playoffs last season, but on paper the 2015-16 squad put together so far by president Pat Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg and coach Erik Spoelstra has the look of a contender.
Wade, 33, is entering his 13th season with the Heat, but he is still considered one of the best shooting guards in the NBA. He reported losing more than 10 pounds early this offseason, a clear sign that he’s serious about going after another title and also remaining an elite talent. The shooting guard carried the Heat last season after Chris Bosh’s pulmonary embolism, and when Wade was paired with Dragic, considered the Heat’s best point guard since Tim Hardaway, the Heat showed glimpses of being something special.
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“It has been an honor and a privilege to play with the Miami Heat the past 12 years,” Wade said in a statement.
“The Heat family and I have shared incredible moments over the years, and I look forward to continuing our journey. I am extremely proud of my personal contributions in helping to build the Heat franchise and for bringing three NBA championship wins to our great city.”
A deal with Wade was just one element of the Heat’s free agency plans on Thursday. Riley, always looking to make a splash, flew to Los Angeles earlier in the day to meet with free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge. That news was one of the day’s major surprises, with ESPN.com reporting Riley and Aldridge would share dinner together.
Aldridge, a sweet-shooting power forward in the mold of Chris Bosh, has met with the Spurs, Suns and Lakers, among other teams. He apparently had a meeting with the Knicks also scheduled for Thursday, but Aldridge cancelled those talks.
Based on players already under contract with the Heat, it was unclear late Thursday how realistic a move to Miami could be for Aldridge, but the front-office team of Riley and Elisburg consistently seems to work roster magic.
It was speculated that the Heat might be able to send some players to the Trail Blazers for Aldridge in a sign-and-trade. The thinking there is that Portland is desperate to get anything for Aldridge, and the Heat might be looking to save some money by shedding some contracts.
To that end, Wade’s deal was viewed as a compromise between the player and team, which is working hard to build for the future while also trying to avoid paying luxury taxes for its payroll next season. If the Heat goes over the luxury-tax threshold again next season it would trigger a highly punitive “repeater” tax, which would force owner Micky Arison to pay $2.50 for every $1 over the limit.
The cost-cutting negotiations started last week when Dragic agreed to take less money than expected. He potentially could have made around $100 million. Likewise, Wade didn’t sign for the maximum allowed by the league’s collective-bargaining agreement, but it was close.
A one-year deal for Wade gives him a raise (he made $16.1 million last season), while also giving the Heat flexibility for next summer’s free-agent class. That group will include Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"It's no secret that my goal was to sign a longer-term deal this summer,” Wade told the Associated Press. “That's what I was focused on. Once I realized that probably wasn't the best thing for me right now, where everything is financially with the NBA and a lot of things coming up that we don't even know about yet, a one-year deal isn't a bad thing."
The salary cap is expected to jump by as much as $25 million next year. Wade is now poised to cash in again, and this time for one more long-term deal.
"This contract is a win-win for both Dwyane and the Heat," said Wade’s agent Henry Thomas in a statement. "Not only does Dwyane get to extend his Hall of Fame-worthy career with the only franchise for whom he has ever played, but he will have the flexibility next summer to sign an additional deal. And the Heat gets to keep their franchise cornerstone while having the ability to build a championship-contending roster."
With Riley in Los Angeles, that contending roster might be a work in progress. If a sign-and-trade for Aldridge isn’t realistic, the Heat might have to trade away players in order slash payroll. Losing veterans like Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers would be a major blow, but the Heat also still needs a reliable three-point shooter, which it lacked last season.
Landing role players to sign-on with a contending team should be an easy exercise after Thursday, though. With Wade back in the fold, Dragic and Luol Deng eager to win, Bosh healthy and center Hassan Whiteside looking to establish himself as a star, the Heat appears poised for a return to the playoffs.