Dwyane Wade is coming home: Heat acquire greatest player in franchise history from Cleveland for second-round pick

MIAMI – When Dwyane Wade left Miami in the summer of 2016, some wondered if he’d ever wear a Heat uniform again.

The answer: Yes.

The Miami Heat re-acquired the greatest player in franchise history Thursday a few hours before the trade deadline by sending a protected 2024 second-round pick to the Cavaliers, who made several deals hoping to turn around their disappointing season.

Dwyane Wade is returning to Miami where he spent his first 13 years in the NBA and helped the Heat win three titles. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

To some, the reunion is not unexpected, considering when Wade left Miami, the organization took out a full-page ad with the message: “We’ll Leave A Key Under the Mat For You.”

Wade will pick up that key sometime today.

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“I guess I can share my city with him again,” said Udonis Haslem, Wade’s closest friend on the team who said last summer that if Wade ever returned, it would be “a dream come true.”

Wade arrived in Miami on Thursday night and he is expected to play in Friday’s home game against Milwaukee. Heat President Pat Riley, who said the trade came together quickly, talked to Wade after the deal was made.

“I said to him, ‘You just ate your last meal of pancakes with syrup and with whip cream and strawberries on top. We’re back to veggies.’ ” Riley said.

The Heat had to create a roster spot for Wade and released center A.J. Hammons, who had spent the entire season on Miami’s G League team in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The deal was Miami’s second of the day, coming shortly after the Heat acquired Luke Babbitt from Atlanta for Okaro White. The Hawks then waived White.

Wade, 36, returns to a Heat team in need of a boost. Miami (29-26) has lost five straight and after climbing to within a half-game of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, has slipped to seventh, one-half game ahead of No. 8 Philadelphia. And Wade likely is not returning to be a role player. With Dion Waiters out for the season after undergoing ankle surgery, Wade could return to the starting lineup, a spot he held for 13 seasons after the Heat took him with the fifth overall pick in 2003 out of Marquette.

Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“He’ll fit perfectly,” said All-Star point guard Goran Dragic, who played 1 1/2 years with Wade after the Heat acquired Dragic in February 2015.

“You need to understand, we play a half-court game, I think that’s perfect for him. He can handle the ball. He can make plays. He can score. I think he will not have a problem to play.”

Tyler Johnson originally replaced Waiters as shooting guard, but after missing five games with an ankle injury, he has struggled to regain his form. Coach Erik Spoelstra recently moved Josh Richardson from small forward to shooting guard alongside Dragic and had Johnson coming off the bench.

Although Wade could slide into the starting two-guard spot with Richardson moving back to small forward, Riley said he can see Wade coming off the bench, but added he is leaving that up to Spoelstra.

“There’s still things he can do from an offensive standpoint,” Riley said. “He can get to the rim. He can make plays. And he can make shots. He has an uncanny ability to do that when the pressure is put on him, not a second or third option. He’s going to have to gear himself up a little bit more to that situation. He still has a lot left in the tank and I’m excited about that.”

Riley, though, warned this is not the Wade that made 12 consecutive All-Star Games, was the 2006 Finals MVP and led the league in scoring in 2009.

“All of us have to realize he’s not Dwyane Wade of 2006 against Dallas,” Riley said. “He’s a facsimile of that. Being in Chicago, the fact that he decided to come off the bench in Cleveland has minimized and also limited his opportunities to do certain things that he’s always been capable of doing. So I would imagine he would morph right back into the role of being a front-line scorer for us, a crunch-time scorer for us, a defender on the ball in need situations.

“There’s something about Dwyane at the end of games that is unique and special. I don’t think you lose that. I think over the next couple of weeks, as he gets re-indoctrinated back into our system, gets himself back into that kind of condition mentally and physically, he may be a go-to guy for us at the end of the game.”

And as far as that rift between Wade and Riley that played a big role in Wade leaving for Chicago two summers ago, Riley said both parties have moved on.

“Based on what happened with Dwyane and us the last couple years, there’s no bitterness and there’s no regrets,” Riley said. “We’re moving forward.”

Heat players were shocked and ecstatic when told following Thursday’s practice that Wade was returning.

“I’ll definitely get a lot more lobs, a lot more dunks,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “His IQ is amazing. I think sometimes people take that for granted, a guy that got such a great IQ coming off the pick-and-rolls. It really wasn’t something that we had to work out. We just had an understanding of each other and just that communication in that game and off the court. It was just a great chemistry.”

Josh Richardson, coming off a career-high 30 points in Miami’s loss to Houston on Wednesday, is looking forward to being reunited with Wade. Richardson’s rookie season was Wade’s last in Miami before he bolted for Chicago.

“He can come back and be a great leader for us. We’re a young team and (Haslem) has done a great job with keeping us all in line, but D-Wade will be just another guy that can help,” Richardson said. “He’s one of the best player in the world and I’m excited to have him back.

“He’s an awesome guy. He was one of my (veterans) my rookie year and he took care of myself and Justise (Winslow). I think he has a lot of stuff that that he can teach us and teach me about the roles that he scores and the way that he does things.”

The Heat, though, have struggled recently closing games. Each of their past nine loses have been by single digits and came down to the final few minutes.

“It’s a guy who knows how to finish and win,” Tyler Johnson said. “Combined with what we’ve had to learn during these stretches, I think it means something pretty good.”

Wade  spent his first 13 seasons with the Heat, helping the franchise win three NBA titles, first in 2006 with Shaquille O’Neal as his wingman and in 2011 and 2012 after LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Wade to form the Big Three. That group took the Heat to four consecutive NBA Finals.

But in the summer of 2016, Wade signed a two-year $47 million contract with his hometown Bulls. Wade’s time in Chicago, though, was not the warm-and-fuzzy homecoming most expected. After a season that saw the team struggle on the court and deal with locker room chemistry issues, the Bulls and Wade agreed to a buyout prior to this season and Wade joined James in Cleveland, signing a one-year, minimum deal for $2.3 million.

But the Cavaliers have become perhaps the most dysfunctional team in the league and Cleveland decided to remake their team on the fly Thursday by moving several veterans, including Wade. ESPN reported that the Cavaliers wanted to “do right” by Wade once they acquired Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance from the Lakers, Rodney Hood from the Jazz and George Hill from the Kings and knowing Wade’s role would be diminished. Wade, his representative Leon Rose and LeBron James were all consulted

Wade, who remains the Heat’s all-time leader in several categories including points, assists and games played, is averaging 11.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists while playing 23.2 minutes per game. After starting three games, he volunteered to come off the bench and has been Cleveland’s most productive bench player.

Wade is shooting 45.5 percent from the floor, which is nearly identical to his final season in Miami (45.6) when he averaged 19.0 points.

“He put this franchise on his back,” Dragic said. “He’s got a lot of experience. His ability to lead the team and his experience can help a lot with this young team.”

Although the trade deadline has passed, the Heat still have ways to improve. Several players will be available leading up to the March 1 buyout deadline and Miami has a $5.5 million disabled player exception, which was granted to them for Waiters, if they want to add a player. The exception signing would be limited to the rest of the season and would have to be used by March 12.

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