"Dwyane Wade is signing with the Chicago Bulls, not Miami."
Jon Weiner, the Stugotz of the Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz.
Words spoken by Jon "Stugotz" Weiner in the Summer of 2010, during the free agency period that brought LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami turn out to be true, six years later.
For the past 13 years, Wade has been a part of the Miami culture. He has a county "named" after him, he's the best player in franchise history (if you take LeBron James out of the running), he is a three-time NBA Champion, and Finals MVP. He was selected fifth overall in the legendary 2003 NBA Draft out of Marquette, passed over by the Cavaliers, Pistons, Nuggets, and the Raptors, who selected LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Bosh respectively. Pat Riley did not want to draft Dwyane Wade initially, but was talked into drafting the slashing guard anyway.
Wade, Riley, and the Heat never looked back.
This is not meant to be a reflection on Wade's career in Miami, but a look at what it is that led us to the point where Dwyane Wade is no longer a member of the Miami Heat.
The root of the issue begins with Pat Riley. The Godfather has been involved in the NBA since he was a player in the 70's and has been successful in every aspect of the game, whether it be as a player, coach or team president. That being said, wherever he goes, relationships end badly. When he left New York, he quit via a fax. He had issues with Alonzo Mourning in Miami that led to Mourning leaving the team in 2003, after being disrespected by an offer worth between $1.04 million and $10 million, depending on other personnel moves made that year.
Does that sound familiar?
Wade became great friends with LeBron James during their first seven years in the NBA, striking up a friendship with Chris Bosh, which eventually led to the three of them teaming up in Miami during the summer of 2010. If you ask Riley fans, he sealed the deal by getting all three to come to Miami on a discount. If you ask Wade fans, it happened because of his existing relationships with Bosh and James.
After losing in the 2014 NBA Finals to the San Antonio Spurs, all three members of the Big Three opted out of the six-year deals they signed in the summer of 2010 - all of them were once again free agents. Wade was asked by the Heat to opt out of his two-year $41.8 million contract in 2014; he did and then re-signed on a two-year deal, worth $31.1 million, leaving $10.7 million on the table for the Heat to use to fill out their roster. The deal he signed was a one and one deal - a two-year contract with a player option after the first year. James then left the Heat to return to Cleveland, in part, due to his exit interview with Heat President Pat Riley.
After the 2014 Finals ended, Riley had a number of choice quotes about the stars on his team, which rubbed James, and apparently Wade, the wrong way. Riley was quoted saying, "You've got to stay together if you've got the guts. You don't find the first door and run out of it if you have an opportunity". This was a statement that caused James to rethink his position on returning to the Heat and opened the proverbial door for Dan Gilbert to meet with James in Miami, allowing them to put their differences aside, and bring James back to Cleveland. This was not announced until Riley took a flight from Miami to Las Vegas, where James was hosting a basketball camp, to meet with James. James met with Riley but did not listen to a thing Riley had to say, merely took the meeting as a courtesy meeting, and sent Riley back to Miami with no decision. Shortly after Wade and James flew back from Vegas, James announced he was going to Cleveland, Bosh resigned with the Heat, and Wade did the same, leaving the aforementioned money on the table.
Wade played out the 2014-2015 season in Miami with the Heat missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Wade opted out of his contract in the off-season and began to engage in verbal combat with the Heat over the money that he left on the table in 2014. He wanted the Heat to pay him the money he felt he was owed, and the Heat were reluctant to give him what he wanted. Wade wanted a three-year $50 million deal from Miami, which Riley refused, because he didn't want to ruin the Heat's cap flexibility for 2016 and their chance to make a run at a free agency class, which included Kevin Durant.
Wade put on a small show by following Cavs fans on twitter and the Cavs on Instagram, causing a massive hullabaloo amongst Miami fans. Fans were fearing they'd lose the most popular athlete in South Florida history, because the Heat did not prioritize Wade over free agent flexibility. Wade signed a one-year $20 million deal with the Heat on July 2, 2015, recouping $4 million of the money that he left on the table the year before.
Wade played well in 2015, and was their best performer during their playoff run. After the season was over, he wanted to sign a new deal with the Heat that would guarantee he remain a member of the Miami Heat throughout his entire career. He, James, and Chris Paul took a vacation together at the beginning of the free agency period this year, traveling to Ibiza and Majorca while the rest of the NBA dealt with the free agents. Wade was anticipating signing with the team upon his return to the States, but that was not to be the case.
Wade came back to the States to find that Miami was not trying all that hard to re-sign him. He met with the Cavs and Dan Gilbert, which was an emotional ploy against Riley and the Heat. Riley has not gotten over the fact that James left the team in 2014 and is still very bitter about James returning to Cleveland - to that team, that city, and that owner, when Riley and the Heat did nothing but offer James an opportunity to win championships and be successful. Wade, since teaming up with James, has seen how James has treated Riley, the manner in which he dealt with Riley two summers ago, the way he was dismissive of Riley, forged his own path to a title, and this is something that Wade has been very observant of. Wade is not loyal to the Heat, he's not loyal to the Arison's, he isn't loyal to Riley, he's loyal to James and the friendship they've established over the years. Wade has likely heard the things Riley has had to say about James since his departure, and it would be safe to assume that Riley has made similar comments about Wade during the course of this most recent free agency episode. This would be something that does not sit well with Dwyane Wade, and it is something that is disrespectful to Wade, in his eyes.
Knowing how the Miami Heat worked during the Big Three era, Mike Miller reached out to Dwyane Wade and told him to come to Denver to play with the Nuggets. They offered Wade the most money (2 years, $50+ million was reported), they would be able to trade him to Cleveland in December if that is something that he would have wanted, barring any sort of collusion-based complaints by other teams, and there would be no expectations of him. Wade would not be able to sign in Cleveland because he would not sign for the mid-level exception or the minimum, and James would not play for the minimum to get Wade there, either.
What options did that leave him with? Milwaukee, his college town and Chicago, his hometown.
Miami offered Wade a two-year $40 million contract, but this was not enough to save the relationship. Wade felt disrespected by Riley and the Heat after all that he had accomplished for the team, all that he had done for the team, leaving money on the table, never having been the highest paid player on the team and taking a backseat for James when he came to town. The Heat only tried as hard to resign Wade as they needed to to make it seem as though they wanted him back, says Dan LeBatard of ESPN and the Miami Herald. Riley and the Heat organization did not want to handcuff their team the way we all saw the Lakers handcuff their team when they gave Kobe Bryant the "Kobe" deal. The Heat would rather let Wade walk than have to pay him above what they believe his future value to be.
Riley and the Heat don't pay for past accomplishments/performance, they pay for future performance, hence why they refused to pay Wade more than what they felt he was worth to them going forward.
With Wade signing with the Bulls, other stories have come out of the closet. When Bosh was contemplating signing with the Rockets in the summer of 2014, the Rockets were offering him $88 million over four years. The Heat countered with $95 million, but Bosh said that it would take the full max to re-sign him, and it's the full max Bosh got, and he returned to the Heat. It will be interesting to see what happens with Bosh now, and it will be interesting to see how the relationship with Bosh and the Heat will develop over the course of the year after the drama of the playoffs last year where Bosh wanted to play, but the Heat would not clear him to play due to his blood clot issues. The Wade camp was on the same side of the Bosh camp in the playoffs, where Wade wanted Bosh to play, per Dan LeBatard. It became players vs. organization in the playoffs and the off-season, and it will be interesting to see how it continues to play out.
The hardest part of the saga for Heat fans has been the idea that they now know what Cleveland fans felt in 2010. Wade is the most beloved athlete in South Florida history, and he was let go because the Heat did not want to pay him what he wanted.
They disrespected Wade, which is important to Wade because he does not seem to agree with the reasons the Heat had for not wanting to pay him. They, more than any other team, know the true value of Dwyane Wade and they chose to go on without him rather than having him here. Initially, I had thought that Heat fans would turn on Wade, calling him out for taking the money, but it turns out that the large majority of Heat fans have turned on Riley, not understanding why it is that he would choose to not play ball with Wade, why he would let Wade walk. The very 'Disease of Me' stuff that Riley talks about in his book is what has happened to him since LeBron James spurned the Heat and Riley two years ago. It will be a very different era for the Miami Heat now without Wade. Gone is the era of the Big Three, gone is Wade, gone is the hope for contending for any kind of meaningful winning. Now the Heat have to play for a ping pong ball and pray that somehow things will get better over the next few years.
This has been a mixed summer for the Miami Heat and their fans. It'll be hard to see Wade in a Bulls jersey next year, and even harder to come to terms with not being able to give him the send-off he truly deserves, from fans, who have looked up to him for so long, when he chooses to retire. But the NBA is a business, and while the business of the NBA has brokeen up the Wade-Heat relationship, in my mind, he'll forever be in a Heat #3 jersey, bold, defiant, and undeniably Wade.
So long old friend, we'll never forget what you've done for the Heat for the past 13 years.