30 Teams in 30 Days: Miami moves on from Wade era
With Bosh's health in question, franchise puts hopes in Whiteside
Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule
Today’s team: Miami Heat
2015-16 record: 48-34
Who’s gone: F Luol Deng, G Gerald Green, G/F Joe Johnson, F/C Amar’e Stoudemire, G Dwyane Wade
Who’s new: G Wayne Ellington, F James Johnson, G Rodney McGruder, CWillie Reed, G Beno Udrih, G Dion Waiters, F Derrick Williams (via free agency); F Luke Babbit (via trade)
The lowdown: The Heat played well in their second season post-LeBron James despite missing Chris Bosh for the second half of the season.
The unexpected drama of the offseason found its way to Miami, where a major personnel move took place. Six years earlier, the Heat were also in the eye of the offseason hurricane, but that was for good reasons: Bosh and LeBron joined Wade to form an eventual two-time champion.
LeBron is gone, Bosh is dealing with a potential career-threatening ailment and Wade, the all-time greatest player in franchise history, fled to the Chicago Bulls in a bit of a huff.
Of all the free agent movements in the NBA this summer, Wade’s was clearly the surprise, even more than Kevin Durant going to the Golden State Warriors. Wade was seemingly cut in the select mold of superstars of a previous generation who stayed with their NBA clubs their entire career: Larry Bird, Jerry West, Julius Erving to name a few. Wade identified with the Heat and vice versa, and even when their contract talks hit a snag, few around the league anticipated a parting of the ways.
Yet, these were the underlying issues: The NBA salary cap soared and every free agent wanted a slice of the meaty pie. Wade in particular became hungrier. Despite his obvious worth to the Heat, he had never been the team’s highest-paid player, partly due to circumstances. While that topic generated plenty of conversation, Wade’s seasonal earnings weren’t substantially less than what LeBron and Bosh made during the Big Three era. Still, point made.
Wade wasn’t willing to end his career in Miami making less than teammates who lacked his resume, in particular Hassan Whiteside, the intriguing big man who cashed in as expected. However, team president Pat Riley wasn’t willing to tie up millions in an aging player with a history of injuries — Riley’s allegiance is to the franchise, not Wade — and so a stalemate formed.
In the end, it was less about money and more about ego. Once you factor in the lack of Florida state tax, the money Wade will make with the Bulls is roughly $4 million less than what he would’ve made in Miami over two seasons. Is that amount really worth ending a relationship? Evidently, Wade thought so.
After the initial shock disappeared and cooler heads prevailed, there’s no simmering animosity between the parties. Wade knows his place with the franchise and that Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison will certainly welcome him back with open arms once he retires. There will be a place for Wade with the Heat, that much is certain, just as Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway found roles within the organization.
Suddenly, though, the Heat belong to … Whiteside? A few years ago he was playing pickup ball at a YMCA in Charlotte, a man without a team and with a questionable future. Now he’s a man worth $98 million over five years. Whiteside made $980,000 last season. This season, that number jumps to roughly $22 million. It’s the biggest pay raise in the NBA since Michael Jordan went from $3 million to $30 million. This represents quite a leap for someone with only 17 months of NBA experience and who also had maturity issues during his time in Miami.
What can the Heat expect? Well, Whiteside is 27 and in the prime of his career. He finished third in the Kia Defensive Player of the Year voting last season, when he the league with 3.7 blocks per game. He also averaged 14.2 points and 11.8 rebounds and his upside is obvious in a league that’s woefully thin on functional big men.
But consider that the game is drifting away from Goliaths. Is Miami willing to enhance Whiteside’s role and importance and minutes and make him the centerpiece of the club, or is he just a pricey co-star? Also: Will the money bring out the worst in his personality? Those are answers that will determine if Miami’s faith in Whiteside will backfire. Suddenly, he’s not the underdog anymore. With money and status come steep expectations.
At least the Heat were able to go into super-saver mode for the rest of the summer. They didn’t have any Draft picks, and so the task of supplementing the roster fell on free agency and trades. They didn’t re-sign Johnson or Deng which was no surprise.
They did add Waiters and Williams for pennies. Both are considered underachievers who may never be more than role players in the NBA. Yet they’re value pickups who are capable of producing a handful of fantastic games over the course of a season.
The other summer issue was about Bosh’s health. There were no immediate updates either way, which means there will be questions as Miami heads to training camp. If the issue is blood clots and it prevents him from playing much of the season or at all, Miami will need a start a completely new era.
You might say, with Wade gone, it already has.
Coming Next: Atlanta Hawks
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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.
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