There’s a Dwyane Wade-sized elephant in the room in Miami.
The Heat are a generally predictable organization. Find a star. Compete with that star. Maybe win a title or two with that star. Lose that star. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It happened with Alonzo Mourning. It happened with Shaq. It happened with LeBron. And if Pat Riley has his way, it’ll happen again this summer.
Miami, with around $35 million in likely cap space this summer, is built perfectly to absorb a star. They have two stars in or near their prime (Goran Dragic and Chris Bosh) who are versatile enough to take a backseat. They have a young player many expect to reach that same level in Justise Winslow. They even have a super fun white guy who passes in Josh McRoberts. Whether it’s Kevin Durant, Al Horford, someone out of the 2017 class or a surprise in the trade market, few teams are better situated to accommodate a true superstar than Miami. The only problem is Wade.
Wade is by no means a bad player. Most players who give you a generally efficient 19-5-4 are pretty good players. But Wade doesn’t want to be paid like a good player. He wants to be paid like the superstar he hasn’t been for four years. And he’s been extorting the Heat for two years to make that happen.
Miami needs a shooting guard who can hit three’s, play defense, and doesn’t need the ball. Wade is the polar opposite of that player. He has attempted only 32 three-pointers all season. He’s made seven of them. Miami’s Defensive Rating is over six full points better per 100 possessions when Wade sits, dropping from 102.8 to 96.5. His usage rate of 32.3% is nearly identical to the 32.5% rate he posted in the 2005-06 championship season. His third year.
That refusal to give up the ball is key. It’s made it nearly impossible for Goran Dragic to play next to him. Dragic can’t attack the basket because Wade’s lack of shooting clogs the paint. He can’t run pick-and-rolls with Chris Bosh because they’re the only two Heat starters who can hit a shot. The only real value he’s providing is by making 39% of catch-and-shoot three’s, giving Wade space to operate for himself. Keep in mind Dragic is locked in for five years and making $15 million this season. Wade makes him a paperweight.
This is especially relevant considering how good even this neutered version of Dragic makes Miami. When he’s on the floor the Heat have a net rating of +3.4. When he’s off, that falls to -1.7. He’s the only perimeter creator on the team who can also shoot. The fact that Wade can’t cripples the offense. Miami has an effective field goal percentage of 49.4% when Wade is on the floor… and 50.1% when he’s off. If you’ve been doing the math, Wade definitely makes his defense worse and arguably makes his offense worse. That adds up to a net rating of -1.0 when Wade is on the floor and +4.3 when he’s off.
And yet Miami was forced to give Wade $20 million this season to actively make their team worse. No team on the open market would pay Wade $20 million per year at this stage of his career because he’s probably not worth half of that. But Wade means so much to the Miami community that they’ve had to overpay him just to avoid the PR blow. That’s been generally harmless without an immediate path to contention. But should the Heat manage to lure someone like Durant or Horford, or even choose to retain Hassan Whiteside, they’re going to have to sell their fans on the fact that Wade probably has to finish his career elsewhere.
And that somewhere else is probably a contender. Teams like Oklahoma City and Cleveland would love to have Wade as a sixth-man. They’d surround him with shooters and defenders and let him carry the offense for 20 minutes a night. Odds are, if Wade isn’t in Miami he’ll be playing deep into the playoffs for someone else. If the Heat aren’t a title contender next year, that’s a tough pill for the fans to swallow.
But there’s just not a good reason to keep Wade on this basketball team. He doesn’t fit the roster they have anymore. The sooner both sides realize that, the sooner both can start competing for championships again.