Life After Dwyane Wade for the Miami Heat

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It’s been thirteen years since the Miami Heat roster failed to include Dwyane Wade on it. After a messy divorce in which Wade left for his hometown Chicago Bulls on a 2 year, $47.5 million deal, the outlook for Miami is bleak at best for next season. How will Miami get back to the playoffs, and eventually back to The Finals? Pat Riley has lots of work ahead of him.

Life After Dwyane Wade for the Miami Heat

The Dwyane Wade Divorce

Everything about Dwyane Wade leaving the Miami Heat – the only franchise he’s ever played for – is astonishing. The Last Word on Sports basketball department ran a poll yesterday on Twitter asking which event in the NBA since the beginning of June has been most surprising. Wade leaving Miami won the poll by a narrow margin, garnering 38% of the votes.

After sacrificing tens of millions of dollars throughout his career in order to improve the Heat’s chances at a championship, the twelve time All-Star who helped bring three championships to Miami wanted to finally get paid the money he deserved, and rightfully so. It’s fascinating that Wade has been the face of the franchise for thirteen years, yet he’s never been the highest paid player on the roster. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal, and Eddie House each spent at least one season as the highest paid player on the Heat during Wade’s tenure with the team.

The Heat refused to offer more than a 2 year, $40 million contract to Wade, which fell $10 million short of the 2 year, $50 million contract that Wade insisted on. Wade claimed on Kelly Ripa’s talk show Thursday morning that Heat President Pat Riley didn’t call him once over the course of the past week, which is strange, shocking, and confusing all at once. Since 2003, Wade has led the team to three championships, helped convince LeBron James to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010, and was the most beloved sports figure in the city, and Pat Riley doesn’t even give him a call? That’s insulting. It definitely makes it seem like Riley has no issues at all with Wade walking away, igniting the start of a new era of Miami Heat basketball.

It’s a New Era in Miami

There are plenty of question marks surrounding the Heat now that both the franchise and its star player have decided to move on. The most pressing decision to make right now is whether or not to match the Brooklyn Nets 4 year, $50 million offer sheet to Tyler Johnson. The Nets back loaded the contract, similar to what the Houston Rockets did with the Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik contracts in 2012, meaning that should Miami decide to match the offer sheet, Johnson would take up $19 million in cap space during the final two years of the deal. With the way the contract is structured, Brooklyn would only take a $12.5 million cap hit each season, balancing out the money evenly throughout the four years (assuming the Heat don’t match the offer sheet). Johnson is an intriguing player, as he is just 24 years old and has plenty of room to grow as a player. However, to this point in his career he’s been nothing more than a solid backup combo guard. Paying an unproven player $50 million is an enormous pill to swallow if you’re the Heat, especially with the $19 million cap hit the final two years. Even though the salary cap is expected to increase again next summer – this time to $102 million – the wisest decision for the Heat is probably to let Johnson walk. In a summer where few teams (other than the Heat with Wade) have said the phrase “that’s too expensive,” this contract is indeed too expensive.

The Heat didn’t want to pay their 34 year old shooting guard this summer, but they certainly wanted to pay their 27 year old center. Miami re-signed Hassan Whiteside to a 4 year, $98 million contract. He averaged career highs of 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per game last season, and the Heat will expect him to grow as a leader now that the franchise has committed to him long term.

Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding the team, and one that goes more unnoticed than it should, is the health of Chris Bosh. The eleven time All-Star missed the second halves of both the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with career threatening blood clots. He played in the first half of last season and was very effective, averaging 19.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He’s the lone member of the Big Three still on the roster, but will he even play? The health of Bosh is very much up in the air, and it will have a huge impact on how the Heat approach next season. For the sake of basketball fans around the world, let’s hope Chris Bosh’s career won’t be cut short by this condition.

In addition to Wade departing for Chicago, veterans Joe Johnson and Luol Deng have left Miami this off-season for the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers respectively. With 3/5 of their starting lineup gone, the Heat will have a very different look next season. Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Justise Winslow, and Josh Richardson are really the only building blocks in place right now. The development of Winslow specifically will be crucial to the success of the team the next few years. Pat Riley isn’t starting from scratch, but he certainly finds himself in unfamiliar territory, and this time he doesn’t have Wade by his side. As for next season, the Heat could very easily be on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. Even if Bosh is healthy, they may not have enough talent to crack the top eight in a suddenly improved Eastern Conference.

Moving forwards, it will feel much different inside American Airlines Arena. Dwyane Wade will no longer run to the edge of the court and scream, “this is MY house!” Erik Spoelstra will no longer have an easy decision to make when choosing who to start at shooting guard. And Miami Heat fans will no longer have the pleasure of watching their favorite player suit up in a Miami Heat uniform. It’s the end of an era in Miami. Let life after Dwyane Wade begin in South Beach.