Justise Winslow expects to be sleeping when the NBA’s free agent frenzy officially kicks into high gear at 12:01 a.m. Friday. But whenever he wakes up, the first thing Winslow is planning to do is reach to out to his mentor Dwyane Wade.
“As long as D-Wade comes back, there’s always hope,” Winslow said Thursday afternoon after the Miami Heat wrapped up its second summer league practice inside AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I’ll text him. I’ll probably text him,” Winslow continued. “But even then, I don’t like to bother guys on their vacation time. I see them on the banana boat or whatever. I’ll let him do his banana-boat thing.”
While the Heat have eight other free agents set to hit the open market, it’s clear where Wade, a 12-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion, stands in the eyes of the Heat’s two youngest returning rotation players.
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They want him back — arguably more than anybody else.
“He’s definitely our lead guy,” said Josh Richardson, who like Winslow had a stellar rookie season with the Heat. “We all hope he comes back.”
While odds are Wade, who is off vacationing with former Olympic teammates LeBron James and Chris Paul off the coast of Spain, will be back in a Heat uniform next season, it’s likely he’ll have to wait until Miami has clarity on Hassan Whiteside and Kevin Durant before the Heat has a better idea of what it can offer him.
Whiteside, meanwhile, is expected to receive max contact offers from the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers in the next 24 to 36 hours and could push the Heat into a quick decision into whether or not it plans to also offer the league’s leading shot blocker a max deal.
“He knows we want him,” said Richardson, who has grown to be Whiteside’s closest friend on the Heat. “Of course we’re all nervous [he could leave]. But I think we have the guys that can get him to come back. I think we have a good thing for him here.”
Good of course can turn into great if team president Pat Riley can convince Durant, a former league MVP, to head to South Beach. Durant has the Heat listed as the sixth and final team he will meet with over the weekend at the Hamptons in New York.
Winslow has a connection to Durant. Both he and Durant are represented by Roc Nation Sports and Winslow said he’s planning to plant a few seeds in Durant’s ear given the chance.
Miami, which has $41 million in cap space and only six players currently contract, could find a way to sign all three of its primary free agent targets. But it would likely require Whiteside and Durant signing max contracts, Wade agreeing to a contract in the $14-$15 million range, and Goran Dragic ($15.8 million) and Josh McRoberts ($5.7 million) being traded away to clear up cap space to make it all possible.
If that doesn’t work, Miami will turn to Plan B, C and D. Either way, Winslow and Richardson believe Riley and Miami’s front office have things under control.
“I think we have a good core,” Richardson said. “If [Whiteside] decides to leave I think we can go find and plug in another good center.”
Said Winslow: “In these tougher situations you have to do what’s best for yourself. Whether [Whiteside] comes back or not I’m confident — just being here one year and paying attention to the league over the course of 10 years -- I’m confident we’re going to put a winning team out there.”
Winslow and Richardson said they plan on playing in three to four summer league games over the next few weeks in Orlando and Las Vegas.
“I think a big thing for me is trying to become more of a leader on this team, really help guys out,” Winslow said. “ “I’m just going to try to be more of a scorer come Summer League. I don’t have that many games, so, I’m going to try to work on the things I’ve been working on this short off-season, try to implement them into the game.”
Said Richardson: “In practices I’ve really been trying to focus on getting other guys involved. I shoot every now and then. But I’m really trying to work on my court vision. I think next year I’ll have a bigger role in ball-handling mode. Like when our guys are off the court. I’ll just have to be ready to shoulder that.”
▪ Richardson said he’s enjoyed having assistant Juwan Howard serve as head coach. “It’s cool. He played the game. So you know what he’s saying. He’s been through it. It’s cool to see him kind of demonstrate stuff. He’ll dunk every now and then in practice. It’s a different vibe than other coaches.”
Said Winslow: “He’s kind of a player’s coach. He’s always that guy when you don’t want to talk to [Erik Spoelstra], he’s kind of that guy you can go and talk to. Just having that voice and having it even be louder or even more the center piece of the team as the head coach, I think it’s helping him as a coach, helping grow as well. I think the biggest part of the organization is everyone is growing. Hopefully it will allow us to come together for the big goal next year.”