LeBron James' decision to leave the Miami Heat in free agency and return to Northeast Ohio to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers came as a shock to many of us. To hear Dwyane Wade tell it, though, he knew it was coming the night before Sports Illustrated let the world know.
Before kicking off his annual basketball camp on Friday, Wade spoke publicly for the first time since struggling in Miami's Game 5 NBA Finals loss to the champion San Antonio Spurs, and Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun Sentinel was there to hear what the 10-time All-Star had to say:
When [Wade] and LeBron James shared a flight from Las Vegas last month, he could tell there was something different about his former teammate.
All it took was noticing James’ body language.
“Yeah, I went to sleep knowing,” Wade said [...] “He called me the next day. But I knew then. Obviously he still had to say the final yay or nay, but I knew. I could tell.” [...]
“As his friend, I’m just supportive,” said Wade, who made no recruiting pitches to James. “As crazy as that might sound, I’m supportive of my friends doing what makes them happy. Obviously, same thing with him in this situation. You’ve gotta do what makes you happy — selfishly do what makes you happy. The decision to go back home was that.”
After James confirmed Wade's hunch with his first-person S.I. essay, the rest of the NBA went into a frenzy of activity. All of a sudden, the Chicago Bulls had expressed interest in Wade's services, big man Chris Bosh found himself heavily weighing a four-year max contract offer from the Houston Rockets and, after his Las Vegas tete-a-tete with James and agent Rich Paul, a "pissed off" Heat president Pat Riley was staring down the barrel of an offseason where he lost the three best players from a team that made four straight NBA Finals and won two championships, and came away with little more than Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger.
In the latest in a career-long series of reminders not to doubt Riles, though, the Heat quickly stormed back from the brink. Riley secured the presence of Bosh — who insists he was "close" to skipping town — with a monstrous five-year, $118 million max deal, and then locked up versatile former Bulls and Cavaliers forward Luol Deng on a two-year, $20 million pact to take James' place on the wing. Soon enough, role players Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem were back in the fold on relatively inexpensive deals, leaving Wade's status as Miami's last piece of unfinished business. It didn't stay unfinished for long, as Riley and Wade came to terms on a two-year, $31.25 million deal that gives Wade the opportunity to opt out next summer and affords Miami more roster-building flexibility than a longer deal would.
The question now, of course, is whether a rebuilt Heat roster without the services of the best player in the world can still compete for a fifth straight conference title in a dramatically reshaped and reloaded East. While the overall shape of the approach that has led the Heat to four straight Finals trips likely won't change too much, both Bosh and Wade will be expected to ramp up their production to make up for LeBron's absence. It's probably too much to ask them to replicate the numbers they put up before joining forces with James — the 2009-10 season happened a pretty long time ago, after all. Regardless, responsibility for staying afloat rests largely with them, and they both sound eager to accept the challenge.
"[...] teamwise, if we come together, we can do a bunch of special things," Bosh said. "We're still going to be competitive. It gives us an opportunity to play with a chip on our shoulder."
“It’s no secret, obviously, it’s been a change in how we looked the last four years by losing LeBron to Cleveland," said Wade, who has reportedly lost weight thanks in part to a change in diet that he and Heat fans hope will reduce the knee problems that have cost him time, explosiveness and production over the past few seasons. "I think our ownership has done a great job so far of trying to not replace but recover from that. The only thing we do as a franchise and as players is we move forward.”
How effectively they do so is a question to which not even Wade knows the answer just yet.
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