Making up for the loss of Dwyane Wade in free agency isn’t something Tyler Johnson thinks the Miami Heat will be able to do in one season or with one guy.
“I think it’s going to be a collective group of guys who have to kind of pick up the weight he was able to bring to the city,” Johnson said Monday at a Heat community swimming event in Hialeah.
Filling Wade’s spot at shooting guard in the Heat’s starting lineup looked like it too was going to be a job for more than just one person this coming season. And it still might be.
But Monday, the team that was supposedly saving it’s $2.9 million room exception for February or March, surprisingly used it to snare former Oklahoma City shooting guard Dion Waiters, one of the top available free agents still out on the market and potentially Wade’s replacement.
Waiters, the former fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft out of Syracuse and a player who has started 110 games in his first three seasons in the league, was still a restricted free agent when Heat president Pat Riley said on July 16 the Heat were basically done shopping this summer.
But two days later, when the Thunder rescinded its $6.8 million qualifying offer to Waiters, it made him an unrestricted free agent and an option for Miami to help fill-in for the loss of Wade, a 12-time All-Star who averaged 19.0 points per game last season.
Although he will receive competition from Johnson, Josh Richardson and journeyman Wayne Ellington, Waiters is expected to be the front-runner to replace Wade.
Last season, Waiters averaged 9.8 points, shot 39.9 percent from the field, 35.8 percent from three-point range and made 15 starts. For his career, Waiters has averaged 12.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and shot 41.1 percent from the field and 33.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Waiters comes to Miami with some baggage, having earned a reputation in both Cleveland and OKC for not getting along with teammates and being accused of taking ill-advised shots.
“Dion’s a great player,” Richardson said Monday at the same community event he and Johnson attended. “He brings aggressiveness on both ends, big time scoring ability. I’m excited to get on the court with him.”
Waiters signed a two-year deal with the Heat for a little less than $6 million. But the second year of the deal includes a player option, which opens the door for him to test the free agent market next summer when he could command a big pay day with a good season.
Johnson, meanwhile, who signed a four-year, $50 million offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets this summer before the Heat matched it following the loss of Wade to the Chicago Bulls, spoke for the first time Monday about his new contract.
“It’s a great feeling to know you’re wanted somewhere,” said Johnson, a former undrafted prospect who has played just 68 games with the Heat in two seasons.
“They showed me how much they want me to be a part of the organization by matching [Brooklyn’s offer]. It wasn’t an easy process for me, and I know it wasn’t an easy process for them. I know there was a lot of change over going on. But the ability to continue to grow with Josh, Briante [Weber], Hassan [Whiteside], Justise [Winslow], those young guys is a great opportunity.”
Johnson said he “threw up a couple times” when he heard how much the Nets were offering to pay to land him. He was even more surprised when the Heat matched the deal, which includes a commitment by Miami to pay him $18 and $19 million in the final two seasons of the deal.
“I was in shock,” Johnson said. “I even lost a little bit of weight just because of just the anxiety of going through that whole process not knowing where I was going to be. I was like almost 100 percent sure I was going to end up in Brooklyn.”
In the end, Johnson said Wade’s last minute, surprising departure for Chicago didn’t leave him or the Heat much time to work out a cap friendlier deal on their own. Plus, he said, he felt compelled to sign the offer sheet with Brooklyn, having already given the team his word early in the free agency process.
Johnson said he’s not worried whether or not he will be a starter for the Heat this coming season. Like Richardson, he believes he’s “interchangeable” at both guard spots and will be asked to get the Heat into the offense when point guard Goran Dragic isn’t on the floor.
Richardson could also end up playing some at small forward, something he said he’s comfortable with.
“You have to be flexible in this league,” said Richardson, who the NBA’s best three-point shooter after the All-Star break. “So, I mean, I haven’t really thought too much into anything. I’m just ready to play whatever role I need to like I did last year. Just kind of throw me out there. I’ll figure it out.”