MIAMI — When Dwyane Wade left Miami in the summer of 2016, the Heat promised they would leave a key under the mat for him. Now the question is, will Wade choose to use it?
The full-page ad the organization took out last summer with the message, “We’ll Leave A Key Under the Mat For You,” to thank Wade for his 13-year-run in Miami is now very relevant. Relevant because the Bulls and Wade reached an agreement on a buyout Sunday, which will allow the 35-year-old to become a free agent once he clears the NBA’s 48-hour waiver period.
Wade was set to make $23.8 million this season with the Bulls, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he gave back approximately $8 million of that salary to reach a buyout agreement with Chicago.
Just hours after the buyout news leaked late Sunday night, the Heat held media day at AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday and Wade’s immediate future — as you would expect — was a popular topic. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was limited in what he could say about his former player since Wade is still a member of the Bulls with the buyout not official yet, but Spoelstra did speak about his relationship with the future Hall of Famer.
“Everybody knows how I feel about Dwyane, how my relationship is with Dwyane,” Spoelstra said during his media day press conference. “Having worked together and grown close for 13 years, I love Dwyane. He’s a brother of mine. He’s a brother to a few guys in that locker room. He’s a brother to all of us in this organization. … But my focus is on this group. [Wade being bought out by the Bulls] that’s not even official. It can’t be a thought in my mind right now. Ultimately, that will be a decision of Pat and Andy.”
And it will be Wade’s decision, too. Will he decide to join the Cleveland Cavaliers or Oklahoma City Thunder to chase a fourth NBA title or will he return to the Miami Heat after a season away from the organization?
“I have a list of places that I will look at,” Wade told the Chicago Tribune late Sunday night. “What it’s about for me is looking at the right role. I feel I can still play.”
Wojnarowski tweeted Sunday night that Cleveland, San Antonio and Miami are the “leaders” to sign Wade and added that a revamped Oklahoma City team could also have a chance. Wojnarowski later called the Cavaliers the “clear frontrunner with LeBron James.”
“I would love to have D-Wade be part of this team,” LeBron James said Monday at Cleveland’s media day when asked about the possibility of Wade joining him in Cleveland.
But Heat players are also making it known they want Wade back, especially longtime friend Udonis Haslem. Haslem is one of Wade’s closest friends after the two spent the first 13 seasons of their NBA careers together in Miami.
“If I were to talk to him, I would say, I would love to have you in Miami,” Haslem said of his potential pitch to Wade. “I would love to finish my career with you. I would love to have you help me mold this young group of promising young men that has a chance to take the Heat culture to the next level. But also, I would love for you to be happy as a man and as your brother, and I would support any decision you make.”
Haslem later added that he’s already spoken to Wade about the possibility of a Heat reunion.
“Dwyane understands what my position is, he understands what my feelings are but he also understands that as a brother I will support whatever decision he makes,” Haslem said. “My heart, my soul, my mind and everything that’s speaking to me says I want him here, we want him here. But obviously that’s a decision he has to make and I will support that decision whatever it is, whether it’s in Miami, OKC or Cleveland. I will support whatever decision he makes. I would hope it would be here. It would be a dream come true.”
Wade revealed last offseason after signing with the Bulls that he “made a promise” to Haslem that they were going to finish their NBA careers together. Haslem said Monday he would remind him about that.
Financially, returning to the Heat makes sense for Wade. Of the teams reportedly in the running for Wade, the Heat can offer him the most money with their $4.3 million exception. The Spurs can offer him $3.3 million, the Cavaliers can offer $2.5 million and the Thunder can offer $2.3 million.
“Hopefully he decides to come back,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said. “Everybody wants to have that type of player on their team. Hall of Famer, All-Star player. He’s a big presence in the locker room on the court and off the floor. To have a leader like him, it helps everybody. This is D-Wade’s home, so we’ll see what he’s going to choose.”
But as far as a basketball fit, Miami is probably not the best option. The Heat feature a deep group of guards that has already left some wondering how Spoelstra will find playing time for them all.
With Dragic and Dion Waiters pretty much locked in as the Heat’s starting backcourt, Wade would likely need to accept a bench role if he decides to return. Even off the bench, Wade will be competing with Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington and Rodney McGruder for playing time.
Still, Haslem believes Wade would fit right in.
“We have an amazing amount of talent with Dion and Josh, and these young guys that are guards that Dwyane could teach those guys something I can’t,” Haslem said. “I can teach these guys how to win. I can get in the trenches with Hassan [Whiteside] and Bam [Adebayo] and those guys. But I can’t teach J-Rich to Euro or I can’t talk about coming off the pick and roll and different things he could probably point out to those guys. For him to bring his expertise and everything we’ve accomplished together, and bring it here and help me lead those guys, that would be amazing.”
Along with his leadership, Wade is still a very effective player. He averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists in his first season with the Bulls.
Heat president Pat Riley was asked Friday about Wade returning to Miami and he didn’t dismiss the idea.
“I feel great about our relationship that we had over the 13 years,” Riley said. “Anything that happens from a personnel standpoint down the road or any opportunities that are there, we’re always going to approach that.”
Those are important words as Wade left the Heat last summer with some questioning the strength of his relationship with Riley. There was a communication breakdown between the two in contract negotiations, and Riley even admitted he wishes he would gotten more involved in the process instead of watching Wade leave to the Bulls.
But Riley has since praised Wade, and Wade has praised the Heat and Riley. As Miami waits on Wade’s decision, training camp will open Tuesday at Florida Atlantic University.
“We’re going to respect his decision,” Dragic said of Wade. “But every team wants to have a Hall of Famer and All-Star player on their team. So hopefully, he’s going to come back home. This is home. He played here for 13 years and won three championship rings. It’s always nice to have this kind of player present in the locker room and on the floor. He’s experienced. He can help a lot with this young team. Hopefully he’ll say yes [to us].”