Updates from Wednesday, July 16
Dwyane Wade was pictured wearing a t-shirt echoing his Instagram caption from Wednesday when he signed his latest contract in Miami:
When Dwyane Wade opted for free agency this summer, most expected him to take a pay cut to facilitate the return of LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Even with James deciding to return to Cleveland, the mainstay in Miami has decided to give his franchise its desired flexibility.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN broke the news of a done deal between Wade and the Heat:
Wade released a statement regarding the news via Tim Reynolds of AP Sports:
Erik Spoelstra also commented on Wade's return (via Reynolds):
The Heat released a statement from Pat Riley on Instagram:
Dwyane has been the franchise cornerstone for this team since the day he arrived 11 years ago. He has shown his commitment to the HEAT many times over the course of his career and has always been willing to sacrifice in order to help build this team into a champion. This time is no different. I am ecstatic to have him back in the fold and I am confident that Dwyane, as always, will be leading this team as we look to contend for NBA Championships.
Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report highlighted the All-Star guard's sacrifice:
Windhorst also reported on the financial terms of the agreement:
Wade took to his Instagram account to proclaim his commitment to the organization with the caption, "Home Is Where The Heart Is... My Home,My City,My House..#HeatLifer."
Wade, 32, never seriously entertained overtures from other franchises.
The Chicago Bulls reached out in an attempt to gauge interest as a contingency plan for Carmelo Anthony, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, but Miami has been Wade's home for his entire career. The commitment of the two sides to one another has rarely been in question.
"Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life," Miami president Pat Riley said in a statement last month.
His latest re-signing was another act of loyalty from the franchise and player. Wade, coming off a year in which he broke down again in the playoffs, needed a showing of faith. The Heat, having seen the exit of their best player, needed to publicly save face.
But both have been here before.
Midway through the 2007-08 season, the Heat traded Shaquille O'Neal—who'd come to Miami to fulfill his own championship destiny—to the Phoenix Suns. Miami proceeded to tank its way through a 15-win season, in which an injured Wade managed to play just 51 games. Erik Spoelstra came aboard as the head coach one year later, and after two playoff appearances and some creative accounting, LeBron James and Chris Bosh arrived.
While James is gone, Bosh will return with Wade in an attempt to continue challenging for future titles.
This is a far cry from what Wade expected going into free agency. By opting out of their contracts together, the so-called Big Three gave the Heat an NBA record $55 million in salary-cap room with which to work. James has been strident throughout about desiring a maximum long-term deal, which led many to believe Bosh and Wade were due a haircut.
And then everything started to go awry.
What was viewed as an expedient process turned lengthy. James bided his time, freezing the free-agency period while attempting to make a decision that once looked like a foregone conclusion. As the days passed and the rumors mounted, it became clear James was considering leaving Miami.
After the Heat feverishly worked to retain Bosh—a pursuit that ended in a five-year max contract for the All-Star forward—the prospect of a pay cut no longer seemed important.
Miami, long one of the classiest organizations in basketball, pushed to take care of him with a deal that approaches superstar level. A couple of weeks ago, it looked like Wade's deal would be representative of his diminished skill set.
Instead, it's one that's representative of his and the franchise's bond.
Still effective when in the lineup, Wade averaged 19.0 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game in 2013-14. But his inability to stay healthy again put undue pressure on James and Bosh—particularly the four-time league MVP. Wade rarely played in back-to-backs and missed 28 games due to either injury or rest, as Spoelstra did everything within his power to keep him healthy for the postseason.
While Wade didn't miss a game in June, the rest still wasn't enough to keep him effective. After a solid Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, Wade noticeably faded in the Spurs' five-game thrashing of Miami in the Finals. He averaged just 15.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting 43.8 percent, as the Spurs dared him time and again to take their defenders off the dribble.
With James forced to carry Miami more than at any point since leaving Cleveland, the cracks in the foundation began to show. Wade is not the same player he was in 2010. Bosh, as widely under-appreciated as he is, disappeared for long stretches against San Antonio. It seemed the only way to keep James was a wholesale restructuring.
In the end, not even that prospect was enough to keep him in town.
The Heat have a promising young point guard in Shabazz Napier and added Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger in free agency. However, they need more moves to make this roster whole, including taking care of Udonis Haslem, who opted out of his contract for next season.
Wade signing this new contract is an initial step in the process. The structure of his deal will be telling as to the direction the team will go. Luol Deng will have to fill James' role at small forward. The Heat have kept cap flexibility over the long term, but the Wade-Bosh core will need more help.
James did a ton of heavy lifting—especially over the last two years—and it'll be impossible to replicate what he brought to the table. The Heat are still a playoff team in the dilapidated Eastern Conference, though, and they could be conference finalists if things break right. The one positive of James' departure is that it breaks the East wide open.
Even if Wade is unable to perform at a peak level, he's still going to have moments that remind people why he was once the game's best shooting guard. James' departure may wind up being motivation for a throwback season. That's if Wade's body can hold up.
The Heat and Wade will have to hope their fortunes bounce the same way they did the last time the two parted with a championship-winning superstar.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.