Framing the Dwyane Wade — Miami Heat Dilemma

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Update: The Heat has reportedly offered Dwyane Wade a two-year, $40 million contract with a player option on the second year that would allow him to become a free agent next summer. My guess is that he will, at the very least, push the Heat to add a third year to the contract which, for reasons stated below, the Heat will strongly resist. 

For the second straight summer, the Miami Heat and its star free agent Dwyane Wade and are having difficulties reaching conclusion on a new contract. Only this time around, things feel significantly more serious. Dire even.

Wade is frustrated.

He’s frustrated at having been asked to stand pat as Pat Riley and the Heat organization made its first priority for the summer to retain Hassan Whiteside, and second priority to pursue the never realistic pipe dream that was Kevin Durant. Wade, a future All-Star is no third option – particularly when successful pursuits of either or both of the first two severely limits that which is left over for the organization to compensate himself.

He’s frustrated by what appears to be an unwillingness by Riley to offer an adequate contract. A total of 10 unrestricted free agent shooting guards have come to agreements on new contracts thus far this summer. The average payout: $18 million per season. Average length: Four years. Combined All-Star selections: Two.

Even Wade’s own backup, Tyler Johnson, received an offer sheet from the Brooklyn Nets that will pay him an average of $12.5 million per season, and that was reportedly less than other teams were willing to offer.

Wade’s salary demands are unknown, but perhaps not all that dissimilar to what they were last season: perhaps three-years, somewhere in the range of $60 million.

His desire for such a contract can easily be justified. He has guided the Heat to five NBA finals and three titles. He played a critical role in luring LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami. He has sacrificed $25 million in salary in order to give the Heat flexibility over the past six years (a disputable amount, considering the sacrifice surely benefited himself as much as it did the organization). And, perhaps most importantly, his on-court play, in this market, is worthy of it.

The Heat would surely love to give Wade every last penny he wants in theory, but paying him what he’s seeking would present significant challenges in practice.

The team currently has $18.9 million of cap space. With that, it could build out a potential three-year, $61 million contract (or even a four-year, $84 million deal).

But, if you were Pat Riley, would you give it to him? 

On the surface, the answer is undoubtedly yes. Without hesitation. He rightfully deserves far more than just that.

Underneath that surface, however, lies a bunch of serious problems for the Heat if they do.

If the Heat were to offer Wade the full $18.9 million, it would have limited opportunity with which to improve this summer. It could match the offer sheet to Johnson. It would have access to the mid-level exception for room teams, but that only pays out $2.898 million in the first year of a contract that can span two years in length. It could offer minimum salary contracts. Barring trade scenarios, that’s it.

The issues it had this past season – among them, an uncomfortable fit in the backcourt between Wade and Goran Dragic – would still persist.

That, however, likely isn’t the problem. One would think the Heat would surely give Wade the full $18.9 million. The problem lies with the future beyond next season.

The Heat has a very solid, multi-talented core of youngsters in guards Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson, forward Justise Winslow and center Hassan Whiteside. It has a potentially perfect, floor-spacing frontcourt compliment to Whiteside in Chris Bosh, assuming health.

In an offense system designed to capitalize upon it, what was once a shocking inability to space the floor could now be considered a strength. And depending upon where Richardson – who led the entire NBA in three-point shooting percentage after the All-Star Break, at 53 percent – and Johnson – who shot 41 percent on three-pointers last season (excluding heaves), despite often being miscast as a point guard — level off with their shooting, a potentially big one.

That type of shooting could provide Whiteside — now a franchise cornerstone with his four-year, $96.4 million contract secured – much-coveted floor-spacing into which to maneuver.

At 7-feet, 265-pounds, and with a ridiculous 7-foot-7-inch wingspan, Whiteside alters the geometry of the game. His individual statistics last season, were silly – 17.6 points (on 60.6 percent shooting), 14.7 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per 36 minutes played. And he did it despite having two, three, and sometimes four defenders draped all over him every time he tried to touch the ball.

Imagine what he could do in an offense that spaced the floor around him.

Is it so preposterous to imagine he could become one of the best, and most efficient, scorers in the whole of the NBA?

Is it so preposterous to envision a constant stream of Whiteside pick-and-rolls, Bosh pick-and-pops, and swished three-pointers every time defenders rotated away from Heat shooters to try to stop it?

Is it so preposterous to imagine that with Whiteside down low; Bosh, Richardson and Johnson to space the floor around him; and Dragic’s speed and Winslow’s defense thrown into the mix; that the team could be just one elite player who fits the structure away from competing for titles?

Well… The 2017 class is loaded.

The list of players who can be unrestricted free agents in 2017 includes: point guards Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry; shooting guard J.J. Redick; small forwards Kevin Durant, LeBron James (if he signs another one-year deal this summer) and Gordon Hayward; and power forwards Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka, Paul Millsap and Greg Monroe.

Westbrook just had his teammate, Durant, announce his intention to leave the Thunder. He figures to be next. How might he, for example, round out that Heat rotation?

You can bet Riley is already contemplating such things.

The Heat, as of now, could create more than $18 million of cap room next summer, even if it were to match Johnson’s offer sheet. That room could grow to $21 million if it were to waive and stretch McRoberts, or $23 million if were to trade him. Trade Dragic instead of McRoberts and its $34 million. Trade both and its $39 million.

With that type of cap room, the Heat could be a major free agent player next summer. With Wade taking $20 million of that room, however, those dreams are likely gone. Not close to enough for a max salary slot.

Would you be willing to throw all those dreams away to give Wade the contract he wants, if it means your team couldn’t significantly improve over the next several years?

Or would you take a hard line with Wade and risk losing him, if it means have the flexibility to build the team, with more naturally-fitting pieces, into a title-contender as early as next season?

But that’s not the only problem.

The problems continue on into 2018, with full force and fury.

The Heat have already doled out $73.8 million to Dragic, Winslow, Bosh and Whiteside for that season. Johnson’s contract, if the Heat were to match his offer sheet, would spike that season, to $19.2 million, bringing the total to $93.1 million for just five players.

But that’s not all. Richardson also becomes a free agent in 2018. And if he continues along his current trajectory, there’s an annual eight-figure payout in his future, and not a small one at that.

With Richardson and Johnson, the Heat’s payroll for 2018-19 could conceivably soar to $120 million or more, before accounting for Wade, during a season in which salary cap growth is projected to flat-line. Current projections call for a cap of just $105 million for that season.

Would you be prepared to lose Johnson and/or Richardson in order to give Wade the contract he deserves?

Would you be willing to sacrifice one – possibly two — key pieces of the Heat future in exchange for someone who, over the next three years, despite his status as a legend and future Hall-of Famer, will perhaps offer declining production? Wade would, after all, be 37 years old by the time the third year ended.

***

We, as fans, talk about loyalty. We talk about paying Wade back for everything he’s done for this organization. We talk about giving him the type of contract he so rightfully deserves. We should. Because Wade deserves no less.

But we also get frustrated when our on-court product doesn’t produce. We get frustrated when our team doesn’t advance through the playoffs. We blame our organization for not finding a way.

Wade’s desire for a long-term contract poses serious problems for the Heat’s ability to improve in the years to come.

How should Riley allocate what are, by rule, limited resources?

Should Wade accept what he’s offered, even if it’s substandard? Or should he pursue other free agency options (and possibly leave)?

There are no easy answers.

8 Responses

  1. Trevor G says:

    Whiteside should tell Wade to get fucked after what Wade has pulled.
    Hassan would take a discount for Durant, not Wade

    Wade please leave, you are old

  2. Ben Davis says:

    Please do not comment if you are not a REAL HEAT FAN…

  3. Benny B says:

    Good piece. Two things here…

    1) the optics are bad for Riley and the Heat, by not just taking care of their star and lifer, like LAL and DAL have. Taking care of stars, even if it’s bad for business in the short term, is part of what defines a culture. It has real value. Riley jerking Wade around every summer is not very attractive. It looks ugly.

    2) There must be at least a 50% chance now that Bosh comes off the books after next season. His injury is life or death serious. That would open up about 25M in space. And the flip-side is Bosh playing, which is a net positive, even at 25M or whatever his exact number is.

  4. Victor says:

    Albert,

    In this discussion, is it possible that the Cavs could find a way to put a package together in a sign and trade that would net them Wade? How much money could Cleveland conceivably free up if they tried to sign Wade (understanding that Lebron would/wuold have to “sacrifice” some of his salary this year to make that happen? Thank you.

  5. Trevor G says:

    Ben Davis,
    In other words please dont comment unless you have a hardon for Wade right? Get real dude

  6. Benny B says:

    I’m calling it right now.

    Wade is going to leave Miami for Cleveland to join Lebron.

    Lebron is going to take a very small 1 year contract to make space for Wade (and others if Wade takes a discount).

    CLE currently at 16-18M in cap space. If trade Shump, that goes up to 28M in space. Could dump Kaun. Probably keep Frye but theoretically could get 8M more in space by dumping Frye (I think they keep him tho, same with Wiliams)

    28M in space
    -1.5M for Lebron (who can still get his full 5-year max 2017, with the added value of a SUPER low cap hold next summer)
    -15M approx for Wade (Then Wade can re-sign with early-bird next summer with a slight raise)
    -10M approx for JR Smith
    + 3M Room exception for Jefferson

    Could also use the 9.8M trade exception by Feb.

    Now we have a counterpunch to GSW

  7. RemoteHeatFan says:

    Wade has three choices.

    1. Chase a ring. If he does that, then he leaves for Cleveland and that means the 3.8mm slot.
    2. Preserve a legacy. That means he stays with the Heat and gets his 2 year 20mm per year deal.
    3. Chase cash. He goes to Denver for 2 years for 50mm.

    This is the character test.

    Wade has to realize that even though statistically last year was one of his best, that is not the case for someone who will be 35 and 36 during the contract.

    Albert brings up a good point and that is, honestly, will the team be better off without Wade than with Wade? As it sits now, the Heat has lost Deng and added nothing. Will the maturation of Richardson and Winslow overcome the loss of Deng? This team with Wade maybe competitive with Cleveland but will not beat them. This team without Wade may barely be competitive with Cleveland, and again will not beat them. So this is the time, imo, for the Heat to be steadfast and move on with the youth, let them get experience and then next year find the high powered superstar to get them back to the ECF.

    As much as I love Wade, I am and have been a Heat fan since they started. It is time for Wade to put aside his ego. He has been to the Finals 5 of his 13 years playing. He has earned over 135mm in NBA salary. An extra 10mm or even 20mm is not going to change his lifestyle at all. He should either take the cash from the Heat or go to Cleveland to play with his best friend.

  8. RemoteHeatFan says:

    For all those who think Wade has been underpaid.

    Here is his ranking in salary starting with last year and going in reverse.
    9th,
    20th,
    10th,
    9th,
    17th,
    25th (2010),
    20th,
    26th,
    30th

    If you look at his contemporaries who came out the same year he has not left much on the table. The year he was 30th, LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Anthony made the same.

    So it starts in 2010. That year Carmelo signed an extension and the delta between Anthony and Wade was less than 3mm. In 2011 it was a little less than 3mm. In 2012 the delta was less than 800k. In 2013 the delta was 2m. In 2014 it was 7.5mm. In 2015 it was 2.8mm.

    That is the true comparison. Now I will let Albert do the tax calculations to see if Wade really left much on the table.

    Sure Wade may be butthurt that players he feels are less worthy are making more than he is. That is what happens when generations change. Wanna bet that someone from the last two years draft will earn more than he does? Just like he earned more than Oscar Robertson, or Charles Barkley or even Michael Jordan.

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