No member of the Miami Heat has done as much for the organization as Wade has over the past decade.
That much is clear.
Wade brought Miami its first NBA title back in 2006 with one of the greatest performances ever seen during an NBA Finals series.
Wade was also the catalyst in organizing the Big Three in Miami and took a large pay cut right smack in the middle of his prime in order to give himself, and the Miami Heat, the best chance at winning another NBA title.
Needless to say, Wade’s sacrifice back in 2010 has paid off handsomely for the Miami Heat as the team has reached four consecutive NBA Finals and brought home two more titles.
So, it is by no means surprising that many Heat fans, and possibly even the organizations itself, would feel a form of intense loyalty towards Wade.
Some may even feel that Wade should be given a generous contract with the Heat during what will likely be his final three-to-four years in the league as something of a reward for all that he has sacrificed and given to the organization during the past 11 years.
While rewarding Wade for his past sacrifices might be something that would occur in feel-good Disney movie or in some sort of righteous fairytale land, the fact of the matter is that the NBA is a business and Wade is simply not a very valuable asset to the Miami Heat right now.
Four years ago when Wade signed a contract with the Heat that was almost identical to those of James and Bosh, Wade was coming off of two of the best seasons of his career.
Wade averaged 30.2 points per game during the 2008-09 season and 26.6 points per game during the 2009-10 season.
Wade was also on the court for 79 games during the 2008-09 season and 77 games during the 2009-10 season.
However, Wade’s productivity and health have declined dramatically over the past three years.
Wade has not been on the court for more than 69 regular season games since 2011, and during the 2013-14 NBA season, Wade averaged just 19 points per game in 53 starts.
Wade’s diminished physical ability was also on full display during the 2014 NBA Finals where he often appeared either indifferent to what was happening on the court, or simply accepting of the fact that he was no longer physically able to perform at the game’s highest level.
Wade averaged 15.2 points per game during the 2014 NBA Finals and managed to score just 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field during Game 4, and 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field during Game 5.
While Wade’s complete lack of offensive productivity certainly hindered the Heat during the 2014 NBA Finals, his defense, or lack thereof, may have hurt the Heat even more.
Wade had a minus-54 plus/minus ratio for the series and his defensive struggles were vividly displayed in this 12 minute YouTube video that went viral just prior to Game 5.
While Wade’s decision to commit financial suicide and opt out of his current contract with the Heat was a clear sign of his willingness to work with Riley and the Heat on a new deal that might increase the team’s chances of capturing another NBA title, it’s time for Riley to throw down the gauntlet.
The Miami Heat will have an extremely difficult time contending for NBA titles over the next several years with the same portion of their payroll tied up in James, Bosh and Wade as they have had over the past four years.
James and Bosh are still very much in their primes, but Wade is not.
Wade’s decline has been steep over the past three seasons and is likely to continue on a downward trajectory over the next three-to-four years.
Wade is currently, at best, worth about half of the $41 million he was scheduled to receive from the Heat over the next two seasons had he not opted out of his contract.
Part of being a successful general manager or team president is making decisions that might not be popular amongst the fans and local community but are essential for the long-term success of the organization.
And Wade will certainly be one of those difficult and highly unpopular decisions for Riley.
Riley will need to make it abundantly clear to Wade, if he has not already, that Wade will not only need to take a pay cut next season, but he will need to take a substantial pay cut in order to remain in Miami. Otherwise, Wade should start to look elsewhere for a place to play.
This may sound like a cruel ultimatum to bestow upon a player who has been so vitally important to the Miami Heat organization over the past decade, but this is simply the business of basketball, and to paraphrase Hyman Roth from The Godfather: Part II, this is the business that Wade, Riley and every other professional athlete have chosen.
Going down this difficult path with Wade will be Riley’s only chance to retain both James and Bosh and acquire the additional personnel necessary to make another title run next season and beyond.
One way or another Riley is not going to be the most popular man in Miami at the end of this NBA free agency period.
But, Riley needs to decide whether he’d rather be unpopular while contending for another title with James, Bosh and potentially another big-time free agent in Miami, or if he’d rather be unpopular with James in Cleveland, Bosh in Houston and Wade leading a sub-500 Miami Heat team next season.
This choice is a no-brainer for Riley and one that he must make sooner rather than later if he is to avoid watching his two biggest stars high-tail it out of town.