MIAMI — Chicago is one of the teams Miami is competing with in the race for a playoff spot.
So the fact that the Bulls just lost their second-leading scorer to a regular-season ending injury helps the Heat. But when Miami’s players and coaches heard the news, they were crushed because that injured player is former Heat star Dwyane Wade.
“I hope I’m hearing the news wrong,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who made the jump from an assistant coach to a head coach during Wade’s 13 seasons in Miami.
The Bulls announced Thursday that Wade will miss the rest of the regular season after an MRI revealed a sprain and a small fracture in his right elbow. The 35-year-old suffered the injury Wednesday in the Bulls’ 98-91 loss to the Grizzlies.
“That’s heartbreaking,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t even know what to say. Even as competitors and we’re battling right with Chicago, you want to see everybody out there right now. You don’t want to see anybody get hurt. I know how much this game means to Dwyane. I’m going to reach out to him.”
Spoelstra isn’t the only member of the Heat organization who will reach out to Wade. Goran Dragic, Udonis Haslem and Hassan Whiteside each said they will check in on their former teammate after hearing the news.
In fact, Dragic said he even reached out to Wade late Wednesday night after learning of the injury while watching NBA highlights.
“It sucks,” said Haslem, who spent 13 seasons as Wade’s teammate with the Heat. “It sucks because they’re in the middle of a playoff run, as well. Me knowing Dwyane, he’s going to get to work. He’s going to do what he has to do to bounce back. It’s unfortunate. I’m going to reach out to him today to see how he’s doing.
“The timing is terrible and you just never want to see anybody get hurt. Obviously, when it’s a friend of yours and you know what kind of competitor he is, I know he was going to try to push to make that playoff run toward the end. It’s unfortunate he’s not going to be a part of it.”
With Wade’s regular season cut short, he will end his first season with the Bulls averaging 18.6 points on a career-low 43.4 percent shooting in 57 games.
But if the Bulls make the playoffs, Wade said he will play if he’s cleared by doctors. Chicago (32-36) is currently one game behind the Heat and Pistons, which are tied at 33-35 for the Eastern Conference’s eighth-best record. Detroit is sitting in the eighth spot because it holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami.
“I’ll probably have to wear this [cast] for two weeks, but I have to take it off to do my rehab and stuff,” Wade said to reporters. “Doc really wants me to make sure that it heals right, so I think this [cast] will be about a two-weeker, but I go back in a week, get another X-ray, see how everything is healing and go from there.”
Wade has an interesting decision to make the summer. Wade left Miami after 13 seasons in July to sign a two-year, $47 million contract with Chicago that includes a $23.8 million player option for 2017-18.
Wade has made it clear throughout the year that he’s not sure what the future holds for him beyond this season, and he’s admitted that Chicago’s mediocrity would impact his decision whether to pick up his player option or not. But with this latest injury, Wade is unlikely to get more money in free agency than the $23.8 million he’s guaranteed if he opts in and returns to Chicago next season.
Miami could have about $40 million in cap space if it is able to clear Chris Bosh’s contract off its salary cap, and Dion Waiters and Willie Reed opt out of their contracts as expected with more money likely available in free agency. Considering the Heat didn’t want to give Wade the money he was looking for last offseason, it’s hard to imagine they want to use a big chunk of that cap space on him this summer.
“It sucks,” Wade said to reporters of his injury. “It’s unfortunate. It’s not the way I would have written it, but it is what it is. I’ll just move past it, I’ll get better. No surgery. That’s one thing that I’m happy about. And I’ll just rehab it, get back on the court hopefully at the end of this year or [to start] next year.”