Dwyane Wade is headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who can’t pay him, or to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he can’t contend, depending on which popular rumor you want to believe. The veteran Miami Heat star has the option to opt out of his contract and either re-sign with the team for a different dollar amount or take his talents elsewhere, and there have been hints that he just might do that. But the LA Lakers rumors feel manufactured, and it’s difficult to picture Wade leaving a franchise in which he’s the centerpiece in its entire history. Also, we’ve been down this road with him before.
The Miami Heat are still refining their roster in the post LeBron James era. Dwyane Wade proved over the past season that he could be a healthy and productive full time player, putting up some of his best numbers in years. Unfortunately for him, he was one of the few Heat players who did stay healthy last year, with everyone from Chris Bosh to newcomer Goran Dragic to rising star Hassan Whiteside succumbing to injury and keeping the team out of the playoffs. With the eastern conference still weak, Miami should be in position to prosper next season and face James in the conference finals. That alone makes the talk of Dwyane Wade leaving down seem incongruous.
And yet the rumors abound. The first was that Wade was headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers. That quickly got shot down by the fact that the Cavs don’t have the cap space to pay him more than a small fraction of what he’s making in Miami, and the logic that he wouldn’t want to go right back to being under appreciated due to playing in LeBron’s shadow. After all, Wade almost single handedly won an NBA championship in 2006, yet received little credit for the two rings he won after James arrived, amid the national narrative that James was the only contributor on those teams.
Miami Heat fans know better, of course. Accordingly, the popular sentiment among team fans on social outlets like Twitter is that they want the team to go ahead and pay Dwyane Wade. The catch is that he’s twice taken pay cuts, once five years ago in the name of making room for James and other free agents, and again a year ago in the hope of enticing James to stick around. The team can’t ask him to do so again, so it must evaluate what he has left in the tank against what he thinks he’s worth.
And that may be where the LA Lakers rumors come into play. Unlike Cleveland, the Lakers have the cap space to pay Wade what he wants. The trouble: if he heads there, the relevant part of his career is over, as the team won’t have finished rebuilding itself until after Wade has retired. This feels like Wade is manufacturing the Lakers rumors as leverage, in the hopes of getting the Miami Heat to pay him more. If so, it has echoes of 2010 when he suggested he might join the Chicago Bulls. No one among the fan base believed he might actually leave, and no one believes it now. But what matters is whether the Heat front office is willing to act on the mere suggestion.
Despite its use of players like Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James as essentially mid-career rentals, the Miami Heat under Pat Riley has prided itself in keeping its hometown players within the fold during and after their playing days. Alonzo Mourning, the second most central player in Heat history behind Wade, is now an executive with the team. Keith Askins, another Heat lifer, is a coach. Udonis Haslem is likely already being fitted for a post-career job with the team once he retires.
Upon retirement, Dwyane Wade gets almost any well-compensated job within the Miami Heat organization he wants. But that gets trickier for both sides if he bolts for another team for his final few seasons, even as the Heat are putting together the pieces for another title run. The Heat have made clear that their first priority is re-signing Dragic, who is in the prime of his career. But once that’s squared away, history and sentiment and circumstances and cold hard logic suggest that Wade and the Heat will sign a deal as well. Everything else aside, Wade is worth more to the Heat than he is to any other team.