It’s all changed.
Since I started this series with Joe Johnson last week, everything is different.
I’m going to skip the pleasantries and go into what we know about Dwyane Wade as a basketball player:
1. He’s a winner: He took his high school team to its Sectional Title game his senior year, and went on to relatively obscure Marquette University (then part of Conference USA) where he led the Golden Eagles to a Final Four appearance and was named his NCAA Tournament Regional MVP. Since his rookie season Wade’s been a perennial All-Pro, All-Star, a Finals MVP, an NBA Champion and the leading scorer, and vocal leader of the ’08 Summer Olympic Gold Medal-winning U.S. Men’s Basketball team. In short, Wade has accomplished just about everything a player can accomplish on a professional level, and he’s only 28.
2. He’s probably a better overall basketball player than LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony or anyone else in his highly-touted 2003 draft class, or anyone else in the league, really: Pundits complain about the lack of talent surrounding James, but check out Wade’s 2006 Championship team. Seriously. Though Shaq is credited with “bringing” a title to Miami, the Heat were actually worse off in the playoffs when he was on the floor. In those Finals, Wade averaged over 39ppg in four Heat wins. Not that LeBron has made it to an NBA Finals series recently, but if he had, I’d say it’s unlikely he would’ve shouldered the scoring load so willingly and, dammit, so easily. In fact, in LeBron’s last four playoff wins (none of them high-pressure Finals games), he averaged just over 32ppg. Not bad. But not Wade.
3. Wade, not James, may be the free agent catalyst that determines everyone else’s destiny: And he had this to say about the Bulls (keep in mind, Wade is from Chicago!):
“I see Michael Jordan is not [associated with the Bulls], Scottie Pippen is not there. … You know, these guys are not a part…I know one thing about Miami: It is a very loyal organization. I see what they do with their players when their players get done with the game of basketball … how loyal they are”
Wade went on to mention that his ego isn’t inflated; he’d be fine playing alongside another superstar.
Ask yourself, between LeBron, Wade, Joe Johnson and Bosh, who do you want taking the last shot in game 7 of a playoff series? Who was the “Redeem Team’s” leader, captain and best player? Who called the now infamous “Free Agent Summit?” Who single-handedly jeopardized Chicago’s chances of signing LeBron, even though they were the popular front runner for most of May?
I could write it really small, upside down on the bottom of the article, but I’ll spare you the trouble…the answer to all of those questions is Wade.
If anything, I hope you’ve learned that Wade is incredibly good. He’s not only a superstar with stud basketball DNA, but he’s near Kobe-level on his assassin-ometer. He’s the type of guy who would probably take shorts, and convince other guys to take shorts, in order to help assemble an unbeatable squad of super hero-like, comic book-level good basketball players. And perhaps most importantly to this article, he’s probably not going anywhere; Miami is home. And remember, it’s not such a bad home, either. Here’s what I think:
Besides praising Miami for its loyalty, in the same breath, Wade called himself loyal. After watching the Heat complimentary players dog it out through the playoffs with Wade becoming so frustrated that he said “that front office has a lot of work to do” Miami fans started to worry. Wade was displeased, and that was not good. But that’s the only bad news. The good news is that with close to $50 million to spend, a fanbase that’s at worst fairweather and at best, rabidly enthusiastic, hot girls and Pat Riley, the Heat have plenty to work with. And while Wade could be taking the LeBron approach, where he (seemingly) gives his team an ultimatum, (seemingly) requires that they fire their highly-successful coach and then (seemingly) offers no promises to re-sign, Wade legitimately seems enthusiastic about returning to Miami. From what we’ve heard him say, it would take a complete front office blunder for him to skip town. At the “summit” Wade called, here’s how I envision it went down:
Wade: Listen guys, I’m staying in Miami regardless. You can go wherever, but the parties, the money, the women and the championships all run through South Beach. Hop on board, or be mad at yourselves later…
LBJ, Joe Johnson and Bosh: Um…okay…where do we sign?
So we’ve established that Wade wants to win, and probably retire, in Miami. We know he’s probably the best player in the league, and that he probably doesn’t care what anyone else is going to do…he just assumes someone will want to join him in Miami. So, what are the Heat’s best-case, worst-case and most likely scenarios?
Best case: The Heat offer to re-up Wade for his full, 6-year Bird deal, but to bring in more talent he takes a deal that starts at around $14 or $15 million, and Bosh and LeBron do the same. Miami sends Beasley and their first rounder to Philadelphia for Louis Williams, who plays score-first PG to LeBron’s point-forward. Smelling a championship, Brendan Haywood signs on for the mid-level exception, Grant Hill opts out his veteran’s exception deal in Phoenix and takes another one in Miami, and the Heat fill the rest of their roster with discount veteran role players with playoff experience.
Worst case: Wade signs elsewhere, Miami fans completely give up on basketball and it takes more time to rebuild than the Heat have before they fade into obscurity.
Most likely case: Wade takes a true Bird deal and convinces management to offer a max deal to Amare Stoudemire, who as of this writing, still hasn’t decided whether or not he’ll opt out. Then the Heat will get a guy like Haywood, Mike Miller, Josh Howard or Raymond Felton with the mid-level exception, and/or they’ll use Beasley, James Jones and their draft pick to trade for someone. I could see Haywood coming in for the MLE and then Miami finding a way to trade for a veteran difference-making PG like Tony Parker (who may be on the block). A core of Parker, Wade, Stoudemire and Haywood would be formidable enough to put Miami back in title contention, and something tells me LeBron, JJ and Bosh might all be regretting not signing in Miami when they had a chance.
New York-20% chance
Being THE major ticket on the most media-centric franchise in sports would have to be tempting to any savvy, made-for-TV star like Wade. In fact, I’m giving the Knicks a 20% chance of landing him even if the Heat come correct with that “front office work” Wade’s been so worried about. If New York maxes out Wade, who then convinces David Lee to stick around for around $9 or $10 mil, and gets a veteran, do-everything role player like Josh Howard for the mid level exception they’d be a big trade away from championship talk. In fact, they could offer a package of Eddy Curry’s expiring contract, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Bill Walker and next year’s first rounder to Phoenix for Stoudemire and Goran Dragic. Phoenix, always looking to rebuild/save money, and never having to worry about losing any competitiveness thanks to Steve Nash magically turning walking turds into All-Stars, would have to consider it, rather than losing Stoudemire for nothing. The Knicks, trotting out Dragic, Wade, Howard, Stoudemire and Lee, coached by Mike D’Antoni (suddenly reunited with two former players) would be the most exciting thing in basketball. Wade and Stoudemire would average 55 between them, Dragic would be the league’s most improved player and only injuries (which would be sure to plague that unit) would derail championship aspirations. Think about it…maybe LeBron’s not the answer in NYC.
I never really thought Wade/Rose/LeBron could coexist in Chicago unless:
A. LeBron committed himself to taking no more than 14 shots per game and focused on becoming the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson (not far-fetched) and…
B. Rose agreed to play a supplementary role to Wade, deferring to him in all clutch situations, and resigning to be his Pippen/Joe Dumars, while LeBron played the natural Magic Johnson role.
Sentimentally it seemed so perfect before Wade’s loyalty comments. But it’s not out of the question that Wade still ends up back home in Chi-town, I just think it’ll only work out if LeBron signs first, and suddenly the rest of the free agent class starts ignoring south Florida (also not far-fetched).
Financially, LeBron would have to be the big ticket, and it would take Noah, Deng and Hinrich, plus a draft pick or two to get him to town via sign-and-trade (and how awkward would Noah to Cleveland be? Would they even want him? Imagine Cleveland fans losing one of their city’s most beloved athletes ever in a disingenuous sign-and-trade and getting back a guy who’s publicly disgusted with Cleveland…yikes…). I’ll cover that later. Wade would then have to come in at a less-than-max deal, and the Bulls could sign Brad Miller at the vet’s exception, or spend the whole mid level on Brendan Haywood. The lineup would be Rose, Wade, LeBron, Taj Gibson and Miller/Haywood, with several cheap, title-chasing vets. If the dynamics worked out, it could be the most devastating trio in basketball history. There’s been such a history of ball-magnetism in these three’s careers it’s just hard to picture. But then, you have to remember, all have been forced into alpha roles already, and have never played alongside other stars of their caliber. Given what we’ve seen out of Rose, and what we saw from LBJ and Wade during the Olympics, it has a faint chance of working.
New Jersey-5 % chance
I’ve decided to include Prokhorov in any further free agent discussions. He can’t be ignored. Besides, as Jay-Z says: “If Jeezy’s payin’ LeBron, I’m payin’ Dwyane Wade!” How much more explicit do you need it to be? The Nyets can afford two near-max guys, and could probably convince Joe Johnson and Wade to take $16-$18 million a piece, then ship off Yi Jianlian, Josh Boone (sign-and-trade), Terrence Williams, Kris Humphries, Keyon Dooling ($16 million in expiring contracts combined) and the #3 pick to Phoenix for Amare Stoudemire, or LA for Andrew Bynum. Tell me you’d count out a starting five of Devin Harris, Wade, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Bynum/Stoudemire. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of luxury tax this crazy, jet-ski-infatuated Russian is willing to pay to fill out his roster. We’re talking a sixth man with a mid-level exception deal, and picking up Chris Douglas-Roberts’ option without blinking. And don’t forget Courtney Lee, who stil has a year left. Remember, Prokhorov honestly wants to be winning titles starting next season, and “no later” than the following season. And he rarely fails in his rebuilding ventures. He wouldn’t say that if his rebuilding plan didn’t involve some major shakeups. Keep an eye out.
Next and last…King James.