The Miami Heat can point to a heritage of treating its people right. The organization preaches family as part of its franchise culture and can deal a strong hand of examples.
Erik Spoelstra worked all the way up from video coordinator in the mid '90s to head coach. Alonzo Mourning is a team vice president. Juwan Howard is an assistant coach and Keith Askins is scouting director. The club found a job for Tim Hardaway. Shane Battier – whose Take Charge Foundation just awarded college scholarships to 21 Miami Central High students – now runs the team's analytics department.
In that spirit there is little doubt in my mind LeBron James will see his number retired by the Heat someday even though the way he left hurt and angered Pat Riley. Sometimes, even in the best of families, love is strained, tested.
Now, the sentimental tug of wanting to see Dwyane Wade back in a Miami Heat uniform is strong, and it could happen – theoretically – as soon as this summer. It would feel like a wrong had been set right. Like a family welcoming back a favorite son.
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Wade left to play a season in Chicago but he never left home.
“Back home in Miami!!!” he Tweeted this week.
But will he stay?
There are ample reasons to hope he will, and as many to think he won't.
It will all come clear in the coming weeks, because Wade must inform the Bulls before the July 1 start of free agency whether he will exercise his player option to stay in Chicago.
He has not hinted at his intention. Nor has there been any concrete indication he could end up back in the gymnasium off Biscayne Boulevard. There is little doubt in my mind the Heat would welcome him back -- but only under the right circumstances. Meaning the ones dictated by the Heat.
How Wade still sees himself and how Miami now does likely are different. That is why, sentiment aside, it is hard to envision Wade coming home for good this summer.
Wade, now 35, will make $23.8 million next season if he opts in and stays with the Bulls. Miami likely would not offer that, or close to it, considering its bid to keep him a year ago averaged less than that.
Miami would likely take Wade back not only on its financial terms but also in a reduced role, perhaps even off the bench. Would Wade and his pride be ready for that career concession?
In speaking to Chicago reporters last week about his Bulls future, Wade said, “I'm an open-minded person. I will never be a person that says, 'Oh, never.'”
Might Wade agree to a reduced Bulls salary so the club can both keep (rather than trade) Jimmy Butler and add another star?
Open-mindedness has its limits, of course. But the moment he opted out of Chicago, if he did, his leverage would be gone. He'd be a star-in-decline casting for the best offer, no longer commanding a bidding war that would escalate to max money. Not at 35. Not after his still-credible 18.3 scoring average this season came with career-low 43.4 percent shooting.
That playoff snapshot of Wade rising for an uncontested dunk but being denied by the rim – that happened. (And was it they say about a picture being worth a thousand words?)
Riley and Wade mending the fence would be good. Re-signing Wade would be good for the soul of franchise. It would be popular inside the bayside arena. It might even be good for the team. And I do think it will happen someday, even if as a last-season, ceremonial thing.
Now, though, an available Wade simply cannot be the Heat's priority. That ship has sailed. It is always harder to imagine a future and see it happen than to hark wistfully back to the past.
Keeping Wade was not a priority a year ago, when (at least arguably) it should have been. Instead the clear imperative was locking up Hassan Whiteside long-term (a success) and the Quixotic whale-hunting for Kevin Durant (not so much).
A year later, this summer, going all-out to sign pending Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, an in-his-prime 22-point scorer and all-star who'll command max-money – now that should be the priority for the Heat.
Paying to keep Dion Waiters and James Johnson – keeping the core of the team that went 30-11 in this season's second half -- that's front-burner important, too.
Welcoming Wade, home? Only at the right price, in the right role.
See, sentiment is nice and the idea of basketball as family is great.
But never forget the patriarch of this family, Mr. Riley, is running a company on the side. Its only business is winning.