The divorce that was never supposed to happen has survived the opening week(s) of the NBA season. In one corner, there is South Beach sans Dwyane Wade, their most popular and beloved franchise player. In the summer season, Wade walked away from the team that drafted him, a move motivated by distrust, anger and a feeling of disrespect.
In the other corner, the Chicago Bulls who were in the right place at the right time, scooping up the Dwyane Wade gift. It still looks strange, Wade in a Bulls jersey. Strange and wrong.
Be that as it may, Wade returns tonight to the place of his greatest triumphs. Game 3 in the NBA Finals of 2006 (and game 4). A bleeding Wade annhilating the Knicks in the 4th quarter of a 2010 game, scoring 24 points in the 4th, 46 points overall. Or three overtimes versus Utah and 50 points in 52 minutes.
Everything Wade was to the Heat cannot be jotted down. The NBA culture demands special players are treated differently. But in the beginning of the free agent season, it felt a little bit jaded, as if we had been here before with the Miami Heat and Dwyane Wade and a contract impasse and exasperation on both sides and the possibility of a divorce. And then the chickens came home to roost.
Wade says he has no hard feelings. He hasn’t spoken to Riley since whenever because that is how Riles rolls. “I have nothing but love for everybody in the organization. And I want them to be successful.”
Success has been an up and down merry-go-round Heat season. The Heat are 2-4 after losing at Oklahoma City. They are stuck in rebuilding mode without a legitimate All-Star though Hassan Whiteside should get some consideration. How mediocre are the Heat?
They are 28th in field goal percentage. No one can make shots. They are last in 2-point percentage. If you run them off the three, they are hopeless. They are 27th in free throw attempts and free throw makes. So they don’t get to the line and when they do they brick easy buckets. They are 22nd in offensive rebounding, 25th in defensive rebounding, 24th in total rebounding. They are 27th in assists and 29th in points scored. Do they miss Dwyane Wade?
Hell yeah they do.
What keeps them in games is they are a very good defensvie team which is what you would expect from Eric Spoelstra. 2nd in field goal percentage defense. 9th in 3-point field goal defense. 7th in blocked shots. 3rd in points allowed. Miami inhibits 100+ point games but then they can’t score 100+ points in a game either.
All of this because the Heat and Riley gambled that Wade’s place in Heat lore and the South Beach community and his reverence for the city and his new house and his loyalty to fans would keep him, the most loyal of all soldiers, in line.
The summer before this last one, the Heat had a contract number and Wade had a contract number and the lack of symmetry had Wade thinking about leaving. Disrespect is what players always talk about in relation to their salary but the more important question to be discussed is what are you paying a player for? Is it what they have achieved in the past? Or, is it what is possible in the future?
There is a very real distinction between value and worth. Value is symptomatic of production. What do you do for us? But worth is an economic derivative where production, cost benefit, rate of return and actual cash value are used to justify a certain salary. In short, this is a battle between your head and your heart, logic and emotion.
Not to get over nostalgic about it but Wade was the center object for the Heat the past 13 years, even during the brief but dominant LeBron era. It was Wade who sacrificed. That sacrifice didn’t mean much to the Heat. They don’t even see it as sacrifice.
There is an irony here about Wade and his blood, sweat and tears. When the Lakers gave Kobe Bryant a golden parachute after his Achilles injury and received a boatload of criticism for it, the Lakers explanation had nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with treating franchise changing players with respect. Kobe’s contract set a precedent that (so far) no other organization seems intent on following. But LeBron James has tutored NBA players. Think about you. Go, if you feel disrespected. Go, if you can’t win. Go, if the marriage is over.
The marriage, we can say now, is in the trash, the detritus floating in the South Beach wind. All parties are saying the right things. But divorces leave hurt feelings.
When you try to save a bad marriage, you go to counseling. But the Heat were never willing to go that far to be accountable or to even understand how Wade came to feel this way. They offered Wade less than the summer of 2015 year and the last thing they expected was he would walk away from them.
And so a tense relationship was delivered the final, brutal blow. The heart has left the Heat body, cut out by the very people responsible for Wade’s presence in the first place. Everyone saw it coming except the Heat who pushed Wade out the door and left him without a choice. A man has pride.
Once upon a time, Wade brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Wade took pay cuts in the LeBron era. He took a pay cut after LeBron left.
Dwyane Wade is a Miami institution. In a gamble that was a catastrophe, the Heat offered less than Wade’s worth. Wade called their bluff and the Heat have to figure out how to get back to where they were. But it is hard getting a franchise record setting player in the draft. You have to be really bad and then really lucky on talent.
It is cliche at this point to blame Pat Riley for this entire sordid avoidable saga. Riley and his line in the sand feels both trite and familiar. It is one of his many tough I won’t blink stands, similar to when he challenged LeBron James not to be weak, to have guts. It is not new that Riley alienated Wade in the same way he alienated James, in the same way he is alienating Chris Bosh. But this can’t be understated. Riley has it on his watch that he drove both LeBron and Wade away. The defectors of Pat Riley are the brilliant Hall of Famers who he couldn’t make peace with. And so Wade is gone.
Wade returns tonight, probably to applause and ovations. He is truly and incredibly loved.
And the Heat are truly in a mess. No more trying to explain how it fell apart. They have to beat the Chicago Bulls on a Thursday night in Miami.
Wade’s replacement, Dion Waiters, is averaging 9.5 points on 31.9% shooting. In Chicago, Wade is his normal self, except he has added the three point shot to his game and is hitting them at a high clip, 42.9%. Wade will show that off tonight but it won’t be about revenge.
It was a divorce. And divorces, over time, heal gaping wounds.
photo via llananba