Wade “leaning toward committing to the Bulls”?
For three years now, Pat Riley has sold South Florida on his all-or-nothing strategy to rebuild during the free agency summer of 2010. There was an idea floating around the Heat’s front office that they could pull off a monumental rebuilding coup if they could convince three max-level free agents – Dwyane Wade, plus two others – to take a little less than the maximum salary to sign on. For five years, maybe more, South Beach would be the NBA’s ultimate destination spot.
As the team entered the 2009/10 season, the Heat was little changed. Both of its second-round draft picks chose to play in Europe (in no small part because at the time the Heat did not want to pay luxury tax on their salaries), Jamario Moon was the only player of any importance who did not return (he signed with Cleveland as a free agent), and the biggest change the team had made for the upcoming year was deciding to move Beasley from power forward to small forward (and quickly back again).
The plan was widely criticized. Despite Riley’s master strategy, the math didn’t support the logic. With salary cap projections coming in as low as $50.4 million, the Heat would only be able to surround Dwyane Wade with one maximum contract free agent, with only $6.2 million to spare. Then Pat threw out a huge wrench in the strategy by offering a mid-level exception contract offer to Lamar Odom, a contract that would have paid Lamar $6.0 million and leave the Heat right on the cusp of max level money for even a second max contributor.
Wade was non-committal, having rejected an extension offer. He was screaming for help. There was much hand-wringing locally that not enough was done to surround him with championship-caliber players. After all, short-circuiting the rebuilding process would afford the Heat the opportunity to spend as much as $100 million or more on its team salary, a far cry from $50 million the 2010 off-season was expected to allow.
But Riley was adamant.
“If you were paying attention to all the people who were on top of the fact that we didn’t make any moves, they don’t know one thing about what our big-picture plan is,” said Riley. “And I think anyone that really knows the NBA, knows the cap, knows the tax, knows 2010 and knows what we did since we traded Shaquille — that we were in an 18-month window, a very short rebuilding time.”
“So we’re going to stay the course on our philosophy, and to answer your question — Why didn’t I make any moves? — is because I didn’t want to, and I wasn’t going to unless I could make the move. Why would I want to take the assets I have and fast-track the process and trade those assets for contracts that are going to take us out 2-3 years? Lose those assets and have almost the same kind of team we have now? I’m not sure that would work. Keep the assets, keep the infrastructure, keep the picks and the flexibility,” Riley said.
As the calendar struck July 1, there was reason to hope.
It had widely been accepted when the Raptors fell one game shy of the playoffs that Chris Bosh was leaving the Raptors. A second round elimination had people suggesting that Lebron James was sure to follow. Salary cap estimates had increased to a surprisingly beneficial $56.1 million, a move that put the Heat right on the cusp of being able to afford the three max contract free agents that Riley had so long coveted.
Better still, after a year of frenzied speculation, Wade had spent the better part of a month reaffirming his support for the team that drafted him seven years prior. While others around the league were being recruited, Wade was instead recruiting them. He had dinners with Chris Bosh. And most recently, he was rumored to have held a mini free agent summit with both James and Bosh, no doubt attempting to convince both of the dynasty that would be formed by such a trio. He even launched an unprovoked and ill-conceived attack on the lack of loyalty shown by its main cap space competitor, the Chicago Bulls, to its former players.
And now here we stand.
Within the last 24 hours, there has been fervent speculation that Wade, so long considered to be the most likely to stay with his incumbent team, could be leaning elsewhere. After what initially appeared to be a courtesy meeting with Chicago, reports arose that Wade personally requested a second meeting with Chicago with Chad Ford speculating that he “needed the meeting to clarify issues around signing with the Bulls.” These don’t seem like the actions of a player who is unquestionably committed to his team.
Of course, this could all be a part of the master strategy. When asked for a formal commitment from Chicago, he declined to provide one. But his actions have left the whole of South Florida in a state of panic. So much so that it seems almost foolish to discuss anything else.
His latest comments seem less than re-assuring: “It’s going to take the weekend for everyone to think about what they want to do. This is not an easy decision to make and everyone thinks it is.”
If Dwyane were to leave his adopted hometown in favor of his actual hometown, it would be nothing short of devastating. It would leave fans questioning how Riley could have been so adamant and so short-sighted, having not accounted for the salary cap position of the Chicago Bulls, the most obvious outside destination for his superstar shooting guard. It would leave fans enraged at a man who still has scheduled several charity events in the area.
Most importantly, it would leave the organization with nearly $49 million of spending money and nobody to spend it on. There is simply no path to the playoffs that doesn’t involve Dwyane Wade on the Miami Heat. Any hopes of landing Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire or Joe Johnson? Gone. Any hopes of saving cap space to make a play for Carmelo Anthony next year? Gone.
Pat Riley has undoubtedly been selling his free agent targets on the notion that in today’s NBA, three superstar talents are required to bring home a championship title. Well, what happens if we don’t have one?
And these are the risks that Heat fans have been screaming about forever. One man quite literally holds the fate of the franchise in his hands.
And so we wait, with bated breath, hoping for the best. But the worst keeps flashing through our minds.
And so I repeat: Plan for another agonizing five days. And hope for fewer.