After four consecutive years of exhilarating, exhausting NBA drama in Miami, the past two months have been entirely too dull. Heat fans have been suffering from basketball-addiction withdrawal symptoms.
It was to be a quiet summer, too. Retain the talents of Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. Keep Chris Bosh on track to recovery. Thank Dwyane Wade for sticking with the remainder of his contract. Settle in for a better record and return to the playoffs next year. Take vacation. Brace for the summer of 2016 and Pat Riley’s entreaties to Kevin Durant. Dream about NBA Finals 2017.
But the Heat doesn’t do dull. The Heat thrives on tension. The Heat is a magnet for flux.
And so it is time to knead foreheads. It is time to worry. Another “Decision” is at hand.
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Dwyane Wade might leave Miami.
Won’t happen, at least not until the court at AmericanAirlines Arena becomes a swimming pool. That’s the consensus. The Heat based its post-LeBron James Era promotional campaign on the idea of Wade as a “Heat Lifer.” He has every reason to finish his career where he started it 12 years and three championships ago.
But Wade, 33, actually has millions of reasons to leave. He wants to get paid. He has always been the guy taking less to build a better team. He has never had the highest salary on the roster. He’s tired of sacrificing for the good of the franchise. Since 2010 he has earned about $20 million less than he could have with maximum contracts.
James and Bosh got their max deals. So will Dragic and Whiteside. Why should Wade continue to be a bargain?
Here we are, at the crux of everything that happens in sports. Make no mistake: It’s always about the money.
Loyalty is for Hollywood endings. Money talks, sentiment walks.
Could get ugly, like any other divorce. Heat fans are already taking sides, arguing that Wade’s unreliable knees aren’t worth the risk, that no other team will give him what he wants, that the concept of compensating him for his 12 years of service is hogwash. Their favorite cliché: This is a business.
Wade supporters say he’s still among the top shooting guards in the league, even at 33, even though he has played only two-thirds of the games the past couple of years. He averaged 21.5 points and 4.8 assists with 47 percent accuracy from the field this past season. If he goes, Dragic might go, too. Wade is the soul of a team that desperately needs one.
Wade is likely to opt out of his current deal, become a free agent and seek a three-year, $60 million contract. The Heat would like him to opt in before the July 1 deadline for $16 million next year, then take $10 million for each of the following two years and give the team flexibility to make a big acquisition next summer and trust that he will be taken care of in the long run.
Right now, there’s lots of posturing and innuendo and messages being sent via the media. The NBA players’ union supports Wade’s effort to earn his full value. Wade expects to meet with Heat management before Thursday’s NBA Draft to clear the air.
The pressure is on Riley. He can’t win. If the Heat gives Wade close to what he wants, the team removes itself from the free agent race in 2016 and loses its chance at getting a new star. Keep Wade and gamble that his knees won’t deteriorate further, and that the combination of Wade, Whiteside, Bosh and Dragic will be successful, even though Bosh and Dragic have not yet played a minute together and Whiteside remains a work in progress.
Keep Wade and keep most of the fan base happy. He can still, at times, cause the jaw to drop. He is beloved.
Let Wade go — to the Knicks, Lakers, or worst of all the Cavaliers (they probably can’t afford him) — and pursue Durant and a new championship blueprint. Figure that the wrath of fans will fade once the victories pile up.
Riley enjoys being portrayed as the wily mastermind. But he is in a tough spot. Bad blood is leaking and must be staunched. Nor does Riley want to be the Heat leader who lost James and Wade in successive summers.
Wade has leverage. It would be difficult to replace him with any comparable talent given the Heat’s salary-cap situation. There is no guarantee that jettisoning Wade would land a great free agent in 2016. It seems doubtful that Durant would feel any compulsion to come to Miami — even with Riley offering rings for him to try on. After Durant, the dip in the market is steep. Joakim Noah? Chandler Parsons?
Say goodbye to Wade and say goodbye to the best, most accomplished player in Heat history. For what, exactly?
One idea making the rounds is for Heat owner Micky Arison to pay Wade the max $23.5 million now, eat the luxury-tax penalty of $55 million to $70 million and develop a compromise later.
As for Wade’s health, that’s always an unknown. James left in part for a healthier team and his two top henchmen got injured in the postseason.
No easy solutions. No quiet summer.
But one thing is clear: If Wade wants to stay, Riley and the Heat need to find a way to keep him. Bad knees or not, his is the face of the franchise. On a team in a city in constant flux, he should be a Heat Lifer.