CLEVELAND – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra finally got used to seeing Dwyane Wade in another uniform last season. And it was one Spoelstra could accept with Wade’s desire to return home to Chicago and play for the franchise he grew up following.
But when the Bulls and Wade reached a deal on a buyout this year, making Wade a free agent, the man who spent his first 13 seasons in Miami decided to join his second different team in two years.
And this was a move Spoelstra was not quite ready for.
“This is like the twilight zone,” Spoelstra said Sunday following the Heat’s third straight win, 100-93, over Chicago.
“Every time he’s in a new uniform you’re like, ‘OK.’ But not that team. It will never seem right. For me, I hate it.”
That team is the Cleveland Cavaliers, the one the Heat plays Tuesday (7 p.m.) in the third of this four-game road trip. Seeing Wade in the wine and gold will be rough enough, but seeing him teaming up with LeBron James for the first time in a uniform other than the Heat’s is even worse.
The Heat are in Year II of the post-Wade era. A year ago, seeing Wade in another uniform was almost surreal. Udonis Haslem, Wade’s close friend and teammate for his entire 13 seasons in Miami, said he was saving a flagrant foul for Wade. The Heat captain was kidding, of course, but not everybody took it as a joke.
“People took that seriously,” Haslem said. “I got people threatening me on Instagram. … ‘Hit Dwyane? Hit LeBron? We’re coming for ya. Come on, bring it.’
“It’s all fun. If I get a chance to come in I’m going to compete, do my job. I’m not going to change how I play or the way I approach the game because of who I’m playing against.”
Wade’s homecoming in Chicago was not the warm and fuzzy story everyone anticipated and the rebuilding Bulls were thrilled to see him leave. But Wade decided to chase a ring rather than return to the organization for which he won three titles, two coming during the Big Three era of Wade, James and Chris Bosh.
Wade, 35, signed a minimum deal with Cleveland for about $2.3 million, meaning in two seasons he will make about $42 million of which the Bulls are paying about $39 million, including the buyout.
“I’m happy for Dwyane, I’m happy for his family,” Spoelstra said. “I think he’s in a good spot. I think the role that he’s in is going to be one of the most impactful roles in the league.”
That role is coming off the bench for a Cavaliers team that started 5-7 before winning seven in a row going into Monday’s game at Philadelphia. Wade had a tough time settling in and after three games he suggested coach Tyronn Lue remove him from the starting lineup. Wade had started all but 11 of the 917 regular season games he had played until that point.
Spoelstra sees that as a future Hall of Famer sacrificing for the good of the team, something Wade did in Miami when James joined the team by conceding his Alpha Dog status to James.
“I’ll be telling stories about Dwyane 20 years from now to young players on what it really means to do whatever’s necessary to win,” Spoelstra said. “And Dwyane has proven that time and time again.
“It’s such a great lesson for young players in this league that winning is the most important thing and that’s what Dwyane embodies.”
Haslem says Wade just understands the Cavs’ big picture, which is returning to the Finals for a fourth straight year and winning a second title.
“If that’s what it’s going to take for those guys to get over the hump and be a championship team and get where they’re trying to go then he has no problem making that decision,” Haslem said.
But the move has had its rough patches and Wade turned to social media to remind Cavaliers fans to be patient. He said 20 points per game “ain’t gonna happen” and that he wants to be “a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.”
Things have gotten better for the Cavs since Wade’s post about three weeks ago. Still, Wade is averaging career lows in points (10.2), field goal percentage (.424) and rebounds (3.9).
“Early on if it’s a new role and he’s a little bit out of his comfort zone he’ll do whatever’s necessary to adapt and become a star in that role,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s what you’re seeing.”