So how shocked was Heat coach Erik Spoelstra when he found out Dwyane Wade was coming back to town?
Just about as shocked as the rest of us.
Spoelstra said it didn’t get onto his radar until about an hour before practice on Thursday, and how team president Pat Riley broke the news to him was kind of funny.
“I went up to Pat’s office right before practice about 45 minutes, maybe an hour before practice,” Spoelstra said with a grin Friday after shootaround. “Guys were starting to get on the floor. You know just for a quick update [before the trade deadline]. And he said there was a possibility something could happen with Luke [Babbitt] and there was a possibility something could happen with Dwyane. I stopped as I was walking out the door and said ‘What? Dwyane, who?’”
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It turned out to be that Dwyane, the 12-time All-Star who guided the Heat to three NBA championships and who has always maintained a tight relationship with Spoelstra from his days as an assistant under Riley.
“[Riley] then explained that with how much movement was going on around the league that potentially it could happen and said ‘We’ll let you know by the end of practice.’ I said ‘Well, I have to go out and actually work now and have to go through a practice waiting to find out.’ My only response was ‘Let’s go, let’s do it.’
“It’s not anything anyone foresaw a couple of weeks ago. Crazy things happen in this league so it just absolutely felt like perfect timing for both parties. It was actually surreal how it came about.”
The Heat, clinging to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and up only a game on Philadelphia and Detroit heading into Friday night’ game, traded for Wade, 36, to help replace the loss of Dion Waiters to season-ending ankle surgery.
With Tyler Johnson struggling to regain his form after a bad ankle injury and Wayne Ellington dealing with a shoulder injury, there is an opportunity for Wade, who was averaging 11 points and nearly four assists a game in Cleveland, to help the Heat – especially late in games.
But Wade, who is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and in a bunch of other categories as well, will not start Friday night against the Bucks, Spoelstra said.
“I know exactly where Dwyane can help this basketball team,” Spoelstra said. “I think he’s confident he can help this team. He’s followed us. He’s seen us play. Is the role specifically defined right now? That’s elementary. You’re adding a championship caliber, proven talent to this team. Say this is about winning, we feel really good about this basketball team right now with incredibly high expectations. We feel this is a move that helps us with our ultimate goals.”
Spoelstra said he’s not expecting Wade to be the same player he was when he was last with the Heat or in his prime. He’s aged and he’s a different player now.
“He’s not looking at it that way and we’re not looking at it that way,” Spoelstra said. “We’re a very good basketball team. We’re adding two players that can really help us and two players that have been in our program. One that we have a very special bond with. We want him to fit in and be a part of this group.
“We’re still a team that’s built on strength of our numbers and our versatility and multiple guys contributing. You add a player of his caliber to this and he can augment and help everyone become better versions of themselves. And Dwyane is a winner. Dwyane will find a way to fit in.
“He’s proven over the course of his career that he can reinvent himself many times over to help winning and that’s one of the things that makes him so unique as a Hall of Famer. A lot of times the Hall of Famer has to be the Hall of Famer throughout his entire career. Dwyane sacrificed during championship runs. He’s reinvented himself over the last couple of years and he’s going to have a big positive effect on this team.”
In Cleveland, Wade was only averaging 23.2 minutes per game coming off the bench. Spoelstra said he’ll sit down with Wade and discuss his potential role.
“That’s the thing about it. It’s not two strangers sitting at the table,” Spoelstra said. “We probably could finish each other’s thoughts as we start any conversation. I’m going to let it happen organically initially. We’re not fully healthy right now so some of the answers are not readily available to us right now on what the rotation will be.
“Right now it’s just about everybody contributing. We’ll figure out and exact rotation as some point. Let’s figure out winning right now.”
Although Riley brought up some concern Thursday that Wade needs to get in better physical shape, Spoelstra doesn’t think it will be difficult.
“C’mon this guy’s been playing an NBA season,” Spoelstra said. “You know how we are. That goes without saying. Yeah, it’ll get to another level but this guy’s been playing an important active role already all season. There’s nothing better to get in shape than NBA games and Dwyane’s been doing that all year.”
In addition to being a positive influence on Miami’s young players, Spoelstra anticipates Wade will help the Heat down the stretch of games and could be a potential closer. But Spoelstra doesn’t feel as though Wade will be leaned on as heavily as he was in the past to fill that role.
“We’re not asking him to come in here and bail us out in all these situations,” Spoelstra said. “Other guys have developed. What he absolutely does is help everybody. You add somebody of his caliber and put him on the floor in those situations, he’s seen every coverage, seen every situation, does not get sick at sea during those moments. That just adds a little more confidence for everybody else.
“Does that mean he shoots everytime? No. It’s just having a guy out there that helps everybody run a little bit better.”