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Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade has elected to decline the $16.1 million player option he holds for the 2015-16 season and enter the market this July as an unrestricted free agent, according to ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne.
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Wade, 33, will be able to negotiate with any suitor he chooses when free agency kicks off at 12 a.m. ET on Wednesday, July 1. He has spent his entire 12-year career in Miami, winning three NBA titles, making eight All-NBA teams and earning 11 All-Star nods since the Heat selected him with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. He ranks first in Heat franchise history in games, minutes, points, assists and steals.
On one hand, Wade's decision to opt out might come as a bit more of a surprise than those of his former Heat teammate, LeBron James, and James' current Cleveland Cavaliers teammate, Kevin Love, considering he said back in April — after the Heat wrapped up an injury-plagued 37-45 season, missing the playoff for the first time since 2008 — that he would not exercise his opt-out clause. In recent weeks, though, Wade's been making noise about a willingness to pursue free agency in the interest of getting made whole after years of taking lower salaries for the good of the team.
Back in the summer of 2010, Wade agreed to take less than a maximum salary to afford Heat owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley the flexibility to fit free agents James and Chris Bosh in under the salary cap, paving the way for a "Big Three" era that resulted in four straight Eastern Conference championships and the second and third NBA titles of Wade's Hall of Fame career. Last summer, Wade joined Bosh and Udonis Haslem in exercising the early termination options in their deals to create enough flexibility to allow Riley to try to keep James and retool the roster after Miami's NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
When James headed back to Ohio and Arison gave Bosh a full five-year maximum contract, Wade had brief dalliances with prospective suitors like his hometown Chicago Bulls before agreeing to terms on a two-year deal that paid him about $11 million less than the one out of which he'd opted, allowing Riley to rebound by signing small forward Luol Deng, bringing in forwards Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, and bringing back Haslem, reserve center Chris "Birdman" Anderson and point guard Mario Chalmers.
Initial reports pegged Wade's asking price this time around at an average annual value of $20 million over the next three years. The Heat, for their part, were reportedly thinking something more like $10 million, as Riley looks to maintain whatever flexibility in pursuit of yet another star-laden reload that could vault Miami back to the top of the East. More recent updates suggest Wade's brought his number down a few ticks, and is now looking for at least $16 million per year over the next three seasons.
That split — plus might-mean-nothing-might-mean-something stuff like Wade talking about his time in Miami in the past tense while working as a commentator for ABC during the Finals and his dad wearing Cavaliers gear around — have led to speculation that Wade might seriously consider alternate options should the Heat come in with what he deems an unacceptably low offer this summer. What's "unacceptably low" for a player of Wade's accomplishments, stature, current effectiveness, age and injury history, though, is something of a tough figure to nail down.
Wade was inarguably productive when he was on the court, averaging 21.5 points, 4.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 31.8 minutes per game last season. His Player Efficiency Rating of 21.44 ranked behind only MVP runner-up James Harden of the Houston Rockets among shooting guards. It's the "when he was on the court" part that's the problem, though.
Wade has missed 78 games over the past four seasons — 20 last year, 28 in 2013-14, 13 in 2012-13, 17 in 2011-12 — as he's battled a variety of knee and hamstring problems. During his season-wrapping press conference, Riley spoke openly about the need for Wade to "change the narrative himself about his body and about his injuries and about his missing games," and as much as he loves Wade — and as much as Wade has meant to the franchise — you'd have to imagine he's not particularly thrilled by the prospect of paying a premium for the through-age-36 seasons of a non-outside-shooting shooting guard with nearly 35,000 NBA minutes worth of wear on his surgically repaired wheels.
It might make Riley uncomfortable, but it might also be unavoidable from a roster-construction standpoint.
With Bosh expected to come back fully healthy after his season-ending scare with blood clots on his lung, revelation center Hassan Whiteside in line for a larger role in his first full season with the team, trade-deadline acquisition Goran Dragic expected to receive a five-year maximum contract offer from the Heat when free agency opens, Deng deciding Monday to stay in Miami by exercising his $10.1 million player option and Miami perhaps getting the steal of last Thursday's draft when Duke's Justise Winslow fell in their laps at No. 10, the Heat look to be both loaded up for a run at the top of the East and left without significant financial wiggle room to replace Wade's production at the two guard if he leaves:
The question, then, is whether Riley can strike the right balance between showing Wade he's respected and revered, and getting him to agree to a figure that wouldn't trigger exceptionally insane luxury tax payments — and allow Miami to retain enough financial flexibility to take a run at future potential A-list free-agents like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis — in the years to come.
“Everybody in this organization over the years has had to sacrifice,” Riley recently said, according to Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald. “The one player that’s had to sacrifice for the sake of winning has been [Wade]. This is now getting down to business. We respect him. We want him back. We want him here for the rest of his career. And we’re going to try to do everything to make that happen.”
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