NBA Free Agency rumbled on yesterday with a shocking move at the forefront: Dwyane Wade is leaving the Miami Heat to play for his hometown Chicago Bulls. It’s almost unthinkable that Wade would have played for anyone else, yet here we are. After 13 seasons, three Championships and many legendary moments that has secured his place in Miami lore, Wade’s time with the Heat has come to a bit of an acrimonious end.
Over the last few years, the Heat have offered Wade less money than he feels like he deserved, but every summer, they’d come to an agreement to keep the Heat legend in town. This summer was different, however. Instead of giving him a mammoth deal like the one Kobe got in Los Angeles to end his career, the Heat refused to tie up so much money into one, aging player. That makes sense, considering what the Lakers turned into over the last couple of seasons, but Wade must have felt he had earned something more than the Heat were willing to give.
You can’t really blame Wade for feeling that way. Since he hit the scene in 2003, the Heat have been one of the NBA’s finest franchises, winning three titles and attracting major free agents, and Wade deserves most of the credit for it. On the other hand, he’s also been a very injury prone player, never playing a full 82 game season, and he’s been lucky to even reach 70 games played most of the time. Heat President Pat Riley has a responsibility to field a competitive team, not to mention a reputation to uphold, so sentimentality was not going to be something he brought to the table when dealing with Wade. In the end, after all these years, it was enough to make Wade feel unappreciated enough to ditch the only team he’s known, spurning their 41.5 million dollar offer for Chicago’s 47 million. After all, despite his accomplishments and contributions to the Heat franchise, he had never once been their highest paid player.
The Heat have lost more than just the face of their franchise. Joe Johnson and Luol Deng have also moved on, leaving them without three of last season’s starters. On top of that, the uncertainty of Chris Bosh’s health looms over the team. Needless to say, it’s not going to be the splashy summer that Miami is accustomed to, and they’re facing a potential disappointing season.
As for Wade, he’s going home to Chicago, the city in which he was born. It’s an interesting move, because they’re not exactly primed to be contenders next season, not that Wade needs to prove himself as a winner. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in with Jimmy Butler, the Bulls own All Star Shooting Guard. I suppose he’ll move up to Small Forward, while Wade teams up with former rival Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. The Bulls are going to be weird, and it’ll be strange to see Wade wearing the new uniform. I wonder if this was less about going home and more about sticking it to the Heat, the team that didn’t show enough appreciation for all he had done for them. Or maybe he sees what happens to Dirk Nowitzki year after year, taking less money for the Mavericks only to have them fail to lure any top notch free agents, though that’s hasn’t been quite the same problem for Miami.
Regardless of how things have ended, Wade’s legacy with the Heat is secure. Three championships and countless memories for a guy who always gave it his all and became the finest player in franchise history. I’m sure it hurts now for Miami fans, but I’m also sure they appreciate everything Wade has done for them over the years, and will remember him fondly, once they get over his departure. Now that he’s gone, the pressure will be on Pat Riley to reload the team with all of that money they’ll save without Wade. If the point all along was to not tie up cap space in the aging Wade, he now has no excuses when it comes to his future free agent endeavors.
Finally, up in Chicago, they have something to be excited about, even as they’re balancing between rebuilding and the Playoffs. For Wade it could be the final chapter of his legendary career. Will he find his way to a triumphant finale, or will he fade out with a whimper on a struggling team? I suppose questions like that is why we follow the league in the first place.