After 13 successful seasons as the face of the Miami Heat franchise, Dwyane Wade will hit the open market once again this offseason. The expectation is that Wade, once again, will re-sign with Heat; the only team he’s ever played for during his career.
Wade re-signed with the Heat on a one-year, $20 million deal last offseason. At 34 years old, the Chicago native rewarded the Heat with a renaissance year of sorts, averaging 19.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game through 74 games (73 starts). Those 74 games were the most D-Wade played in during a regular season since the 2010-11 campaign (76 games).
Heading into free agency, Wade is hoping for a quick, stress-free negotiation.
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“I don’t pay myself, so I can’t anticipate anything being smooth,” Wade said to the Palm Beach Post shortly after the Heat were eliminated from the playoffs by the Toronto Raptors.
“So, like I said early in the year, in my hope, it is (smooth), hope everything for myself is quiet and everything works out the way I want it to, whatever that is.”
A 12-time all-star, three-time NBA champion, NBA Finals most valuable player (2006), and scoring champion (2009) are just some of Wade’s accomplishments in a Heat uniform. While a rash of injuries has slowed the Marquette product down in recent years, he proved in the postseason this year that he’s still one of the most dangerous players around.
Through 14 playoff contests, Wade averaged 21.4 points, keeping Miami alive to play seven games in both rounds against the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors. Those two series showed that Wade, despite his age, is still the fire that keeps the Heat ablaze. And, while he may want a peaceful negotiation, that may not be the case if he negotiates a new deal to remain in Miami.
Several of the team’s players are also set to hit free agency. Midseason acquisition Joe Johnson, swingman Luol Deng, and Hassan Whiteside are all without contracts and will possibly suit up for different teams next year. Also, Chris Bosh and his issues with blood clots that prematurely ended his season have cast doubts on his future.
Wade mentioned trying to recruit players to South Beach but it’s difficult to do so when he isn’t under contract himself.
With approximately $40 million in cap room, the Heat have the funds to upgrade their roster. Kevin Durant is the big name on the market this offseason and would be the most significant upgrade possible. However, team president Pat Riley’s initial focus is on retaining his two key pieces.
"He's our No. 1 priority, period," Riley said to ESPN about Whiteside. "He's 26 years old, he's a game changer, and I don't even think he's reached his real ceiling in a couple of areas in his game. He's shown all of us he can be a 15 [points], 15 [rebounds] and four blocked shots a game. He'll be right there in front of the line for us."
It makes sense for the Heat to prioritize their 26-year-old stud. In 73 games, Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.7 blocks per game. As Riley mentioned, the North Carolina native is far from a polished product, but he’s still the team’s defensive rock.
If and when Whiteside is back in the fold, he will hopefully join a cast that includes a healthy Bosh and productive point guard in Goran Dragic. That still leaves an opening at shooting guard – where Wade figures to slot in – and forward.
With Riley publicly acknowledging that Whiteside is the Heat’s top priority, would Wade want to return to the team he’s led for nearly a decade-and-a-half to play second fiddle? Riley acknowledged Wade’s spectacular season and his significance to the club.
"Compensation to a player is not just a way to get paid and live your life. Compensation to a player is about recognition and respect and place,” Riley said.
"We know where he belongs. The day we give him his contract, then I'll go to him to cash my check."
In years’ past, Wade’s name has been attached to the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers, and hometown Chicago Bulls. All three of those teams have their own unique circumstances but only two would give Wade the chance to compete for a championship in the immediate future.
Having occupied a litany of roles in Miami, Wade has cemented his status as a fan favorite and a leader. Whether it’s playing hurt or temporarily handing over the reigns to LeBron James, Wade has been a team-first player. This time around, however, he’s not sure what direction he’s headed in.
He could re-sign with the Heat, he could look to another team to increase his championship chances, but Wade himself is aware of the variable of the unknown.
“You just never know what’s going to happen in a player’s career,” Wade said.