Despite some cursory advances from Chicago, there was never really much of a question whether Dwyane Wade would return to the Miami Heat. After LeBron James decided to go home and Pat Riley backed up the Brinks truck to Chris Bosh's door, the only question, really, was how much it would cost Micky Arison to reward Wade for his willingness to opt out of the final two years and $42 million of his contract in the ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of keeping James in South Florida. We learned the answer to that question on Tuesday evening, after Wade and the Heat confirmed that they'd try to pick up the post-LeBron pieces together ... and the answer appears to be, "About $11 million less."
First came Wade's Instagram post, complete with a caption ("Home Is Where The Heart Is... My Home,My City,My House") proclaiming him a "#HeatLifer."
Then came the team's response in kind:
... and subsequent official announcements from team and player.
"I am proud to have spent every single day of my career as a member of the Miami Heat and to have brought three championship titles to this great city," Wade said in his statement. "I've been here through the good times and the hard times. I have confidence in the Miami Heat organization and the team they are building. To all the Heat fans, in Miami and around the world, I know you will continue to show support for our team."
“Dwyane has been the franchise cornerstone for this team since the day he arrived 11 years ago,” Heat president Pat Riley said in the team's statement. “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."
Just how much did the 32-year-old 10-time All-Star actually wind up sacrificing in what multiple outlets reported was a two-year deal in which Wade will hold a player option for the 2015-16 season? A little over $5.4 million a year, according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst:
Official numbers on Dwyane Wade contract: $15M this season, $16.125 next season, sources told ESPN.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 16, 2014
Wade took about an $11 million reduction in guaranteed money over 2 years after opting out. Rollback made it possible to sign Luol Deng.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 16, 2014
The reported two-year, $31.125 million deal would mark the second straight negotiation in which Wade left some money on the table in the interest of helping Riley maintain some financial flexibility. The last time, of course, was in the summer of 2010, when he accepted less than his maximum possible salary to help create enough space to sign both James and Bosh, heralding the formation of a new "Big Three" that would win four straight Eastern Conference titles and two NBA championships, giving Wade three for his career.
There isn't a "Big Three" this time around ... not yet, anyway. Right now, Wade's reported pay cut means assenting to riding shotgun with new main man Bosh, and allowing room for the Heat to "retool" on the fly by re-signing energetic reserve center Chris Andersen (a multi-year deal reportedly worth approximately $10 million over two years), point guard Mario Chalmers (a two-year deal worth a reported $8.3 million) and power forward Udonis Haslem (a two-year deal for the Heat's room mid-level exception, worth a reported $5.6 million, giving Haslem about $1.3 million more than the $4.3 million player option he declined in the LeBron pursuit). It also helped enable the addition of other free agents, including two-way small forward Luol Deng (two years, $20 million, with a player option for '15-'16, like Wade) and the pairing of Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, who agreed to terms with Miami before James decided to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It's not necessarily the murderer's row that ran the East for four straight years, and Riley will still have some work to do in filling out the roster with minimum-salaried contracts, but this represents a strong course correction after LeBron's departure sent the franchise into a tailspin and the entire Eastern Conference into upheaval, and it figures to keep Miami in postseason contention this season. It also sets the stage for a major renovation in two years' time.
With the exception of the five-year, $118 million max contract for the 30-year-old Bosh (which Riley really might end up regretting over those final two seasons), the four-year, $22.7 million deal for the 27-year-old McRoberts and the forthcoming rookie contract for Miami's 2014 first-rounder, point guard Shabazz Napier, all the rest of the deals Riley's agreed to over the past few days are set to expire after the '15-'16 season. Ditto for the only two contracts officially on the Heat's books as of Sunday, those belonging to point guard Norris Cole and center Justin Hamilton (whose 2014-15 salary is, for the moment, fully unguaranteed).
It's too early to know which players will wind up on the market in the summer of 2016, but a Heat team with enough cap space to offer big paychecks, with no state income tax to take a bite out of them and all of South Beach in which to spend them, will always figure into free agents' decision-making processes, even if the biggest draw the Heat have had going for them these past four years — the opportunity to play with the best player in the world — just migrated to colder climes. And if Riley, now 69 years old, decides to keep that Malibu dream house waiting for another couple of years and continue pulling the strings, it'd probably be unwise to bet against Miami charting a prosperous path forward.
For the time being, though, they'll thank Wade for his loyalty and his willingness to leave a little something on the table ... even if that $16 million-to-$17 million a year neighborhood still seems awful steep for a player who played in just 54 regular-season games last year.
To be fair, Wade was still excellent during his floor time last year, averaging 19 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game on career-best 54.5 percent shooting, trailing only James Harden of the Houston Rockets in Player Efficiency Rating among shooting guards. But his productivity was tempered somewhat by its infrequency, as Wade missed 28 games with head coach Erik Spoelstra enacting a "maintenance plan" aimed at keeping the guard's now-annually-balky knees from becoming a cause for concern come summertime.
The plan looked brilliant for a minute there, too, as his production increased round-by-round through the Eastern Conference Finals, before cratering in Miami's NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs. The five-game beatdown saw Wade average just 15.2 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting from the field, struggling to hold up his end of the offensive bargain against a Spurs defense that, Game 2 aside, had just about all the answers.
Before those five games, for the three previous seasons, the Heat were the ones who always had the ultimate answer. Wade could be dinged up, and Bosh could float, and Chalmers and Cole didn't have to handle the ball all the time, because LeBron was always there, the great safety net, the grand equalizer. Now that he's gone, everybody in red, black and white has a whole new slew of questions to answer, and the one facing Wade might be the most important of all: Can he get and stay healthy enough on those worn-down wheels to produce at least as much as he did this year on an every night basis?
If he can, and if the rest of Riley's retooling goes according to plan, then Miami could vie for a fifth straight conference championship, even without James. If he can't, though, Heat fans might come to view even a two-year discounted deal as not nearly enough of a sacrifice, even for arguably the greatest player in franchise history.
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