You heard it. You just didn't believe it.
Dwyane Wade to Denver? The Nuggets have a need for an experienced scorer and money to burn to reach the salary-cap floor. Denver could hand Wade $26 million per year, hope he can push a young team into the playoffs and thank him for his services two years later. But would Wade really want to finish his career toiling in the back half of the Western Conference?
Wade to the Bucks? Two years at Marquette familiarized Wade with cold Milwaukee winters, but even if Wade were willing to trade spring in December for slush and snow, was palling around with Jason Kidd and mentoring Khris Middleton worth a little extra cash?
Wade to Chicago? Six years ago, sure. In 2010, Wade was in his prime, an All-Star, being recruited to team with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and a Bulls team well positioned to join the conference's elite. He was a Jordan-worshipping, South Side product intrigued by the possibility of going home. He might have, too … if he didn't convince LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join him in Miami.
But now? No way Wade would go. He was 34, with three championship rings on his fingers. He had a coach who expertly managed his minutes and a general manager he could trust to build the best possible team around him. He wouldn't win a championship – likely no one else will in this new Golden State golden era – but there will always be a quiet confidence in Miami that if a Wade-Chris Bosh-Goran Dragic-Hassan Whiteside lineup can stay healthy in May, the Heat can give LeBron James and the Cavs fits. And that might be enough.
It couldn't happen. Until it did. Wade is headed to Chicago, ending a decorated 13-year Miami run. It's an interesting decision; the Bulls are rebuilding, cutting ties with Rose, Noah and Pau Gasol in the last month, adding the embattled Rajon Rondo and reorganizing around Jimmy Butler – who happens to play the same position Wade does. Wade will get paid – $47.5 million over the next two years, with a player option on the second season, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski – but he will struggle to win.
What are the Bulls doing here, anyway? Wade is a backcourt scorer, and Chicago did just jettison a former (faded) MVP. But Wade is hardly a floor spacer – he connected on a ghastly 16 percent of his threes last season – and the Bulls' three best perimeter players now all live inside the arc. And we still don't know if Butler, whose level of support within the organization seems to vary by the week, rubber-stamped this. This deal feels strategic: Use Wade to sell tickets and stay relevant now, hope he plays well enough to influence free agents in the future.
So why go? Without minimizing the money – and no matter how much a player has made, a million or two is significant – it's simple: pride. Wade sought a three-year deal this summer. Miami – and everyone else – wanted to give him only two. It's likely Wade knows what his game will look like in January 2019. He's been remarkably well managed by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, but his field-goal percentage has declined in each of the past three seasons and his 3-point shooting bottomed out. In '19 – if Wade makes it that far – he will be a shell of his former self.
It didn't matter. Chicago didn't have to give Wade a third year. Denver and Milwaukee didn't, either. Miami did. Only Dan Marino's career rivaled Wade's on South Beach. And Dan didn't deliver any championships. Wade won three titles and engineered the greatest free-agency coup in NBA history. Pat Riley closed LeBron James with his rings; Wade brought James to the table with his friendship. He has never been the Heat's highest-paid player and he has consistently chipped off pieces of his own salary to help Miami build a winner.
Miami owed Wade … right? Depends on who you ask. Golden parachutes get teams into trouble. Ask the Lakers. Even in this Monopoly money era, committing $20 million to Wade in a third season – or any more than $20 million per for the next two – is risky. Multiple teams researching Wade believed, optimistically, that getting 50-60 games a season out of him was what they should expect.
Riley has an obligation to Wade; he's admitted as much. But he has a larger duty to the Heat. Miami's core is enviable. Dragic and the oh-please-be-healthy Bosh are the cornerstones; Justise Winslow is a rising wing player. Riley is looking at a talent-rich free-agent class next summer. One star – hey, Russell Westbrook – maybe two, and Riley's Heat will really give James something to worry about.
Riley wanted Wade to be a part of it. Of course he did. He's a ticket seller. An icon. The greatest player in franchise history. But there was a line, and Riley was as unwilling to move it as Wade was to stand behind it. It will be strange to see Wade in a different uniform next season. But it's not hard to understand why he is.