MIAMI – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra met with team president Pat Riley about 45 minutes before Thursday’s practice for a quick update on any trades.
“He said there was a possibility something could happen with Luke (Babbitt) and there was a possibility something could happen with Dwyane,” Spoelstra said.
“I stopped as I was walking out the door and said ‘What? Dwyane, who?’ ”
Nobody worked closer with Dwyane Wade in the Heat organization than Spoelstra, who was assistant coach when Wade arrived in 2003 and was tasked with helping Wade improve his shooting.
Later, they shared three titles, one while Spoelstra was an assistant and two after Spoelstra had taken over as head coach. And along with many good times were some heartbreaking losses and Wade’s unexpected move two years ago, when he bolted Miami to sign with Chicago.
And now, they are reunited for, what likely will be, Wade’s final stop in his Hall of Fame career.
“Everybody knows how I feel about Dwyane,” Spoelstra said Friday. “He was a young rookie when I was basically a young assistant coach and we got to see each other grow in this profession and our personal lives for more than a decade. We’ve been able to accomplish so many things together with this organization. To have to try to figure it out without him for the last year-and-a-half, I think that perspective was good for me as a head coach and to have an opportunity to connect again, it’s just special.
“It’s moments that happen like this in this business, you don’t expect them all the time. But when they do happen, you realize, man, this is awesome.”
Now, it’s up to Spoelstra to make this work. Wade, 36, joins a Heat team that has lost five in a row and dropped to 29-26, seventh in the Eastern Conference. Just last week, Wade was on the other side, as the Heat faced the Cavaliers in what would be one of Wade’s final appearances in a Cleveland uniform. Following the game, Wade spoke to his closest friend on the Heat, Udonis Haslem, about what he saw.
“I told Udonis: ‘You guys are good, but you guys are missing something,’ ” Wade said. “I’m not saying I’m that something. I just want to come in and just be who I am.”
Wade is not starting tonight when the Heat host the Milwaukee Bucks, but that does not mean he won’t find his way into the lineup with Dion Waiters out for the season after ankle surgery.
“I know exactly where Dwyane can help this basketball team,” Spoelstra said. “I think he’s confident he can help this team. He’s followed us. He’s seen us play. Is the role specifically defined right now? That’s elementary. You’re adding a championship caliber, proven talent to this team …
“We’ll figure out an exact rotation at some point. Let’s figure out winning right now.”
More from Spoelstra’s press conference:
Does he expects Wade to be the same player he was when he left? “We’re still a team that’s built on strength of our numbers and our versatility and multiple guys contributing. You add a player of his caliber to this and he can augment and help everyone become better versions of themselves. And Dwyane is a winner. Dwyane will find a way to fit in. He’s proven over the course of his career that he can reinvent himself many times over to help winning, and that’s one of the things that makes him so unique as a Hall of Famer.”
Will Wade have any input on his role? “We’ll talk. That’s the thing about it. It’s not two strangers sitting at the table. We probably could finish each other’s thoughts as we start any conversation. I’m going to let it happen organically initially. We’re not fully healthy right now, so some of the answers are not readily available to us right now on what the rotation will be.”
Is Wade in ‘Miami Heat shape?’ “C’mon, this guy’s been playing an NBA season (but) you know how we are. That goes without saying. Yeah, it’ll get to another level, but this guy’s been playing an important, active role already all season. There’s nothing better to get in shape than NBA games and Dwyane’s been doing that all year.”
Will Wade be the closer? “We’re not asking him to come in here and bail us out in all these situations. Other guys have developed. What he absolutely does is help everybody. You add somebody of his caliber and put him on the floor in those situations that’s seen every coverage, that’s seen every situation, does not get sick at sea during those moments, that just adds a little more confidence for everybody else.”
What will bringing back Wade mean to the young players? “I think it’s great. You add championship leadership to this group. I also am looking forward to seeing Dwyane’s reaction to see how much they’ve grown and how different they are. Much different from the last time he was here. I’m sure he’s probably already noticed that. Just how much they’ve grown personally and professional. How their confidence has grown, that will probably be pretty fun for him to experience as well.”