What's Next for Dwyane Wade After LeBron James Spurns Miami Heat?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 11, 2014

May 24, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (right) and Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) both take a breather during a game against the Miami Heat in game three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Update, July 11, 4:18 p.m. ET:

Just hours after LeBron James announced his return to Cleveland, it appears Dwyane Wade is staying home in Miami. The Bulls showed immediate interest in bringing Wade home to Illinois, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.

But ESPN's Mark Jones reports that Wade is uninterested, having just sold his home in the Windy City.

Chris Bosh meanwhile, threw the sports world a curveball Friday afternoon by opting to also stay in Miami on a five-year max deal, rather than taking the four-year offer he was expected to sign from the Houston Rockets

Original Text: LeBron James sent a shock wave through the basketball world Friday, but no one felt the magnitude of this decision more than his old running mate Dwyane Wade.

After helping pilot the Miami Heat to four straight NBA Finals and a pair of championships, James announced his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday in an essay relayed to Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins:

There are no pieces for Wade and the Heat to pick up. The best player on the planet is just that. Life goes on in South Beach, sure, but it changes now.

For Wade, his first move is securing himself financially for the future.

Remember, the 32-year-old with chronic knee problems opted out of the remaining two years and $41.8 million left on his deal, presumably to help create the cap space needed to add enough talent to keep James around. The King, of course, is gone now, and so is that money:

Wade will likely put pen to paper soon on a new deal, and all signs point toward him doing so in Miami. He has been with the Heat for every step of his 11-year NBA journey, and team president Pat Riley said previously he does not want to see that change.

"Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life," Riley said in a statement released shortly after Wade's decision to opt out.

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 25:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat speaks on stage as the Miami Heat President Pat Riley looks on during a rally for the 2012 NBA Champions Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on June 25, 2012 in Miami, Florida.  NOTE TO USER: User e
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

What remains to be seen is how much money Wade can recoup. With James out and Chris Bosh considering signing with the Houston Rockets, as reported by ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst and Chris Broussardthe Heat have no shortage of cap space to burn.

Wade's heart might be shattered by the (likely) loss of his Big Three running mates, but his wallet might struggle to find the bad part of this story. He has reclaimed his spot as the franchise's most important piece, and his next paycheck should reflect that standing.

The next question then concerns what the Heat will do with the rest of their money. They could attack the free-agent market for short-term solutions or maintain their flexibility in hopes of making splashier signings down the line, as ESPN.com's Royce Young observed:

This crop wasn't strong to begin with and will lose a lot of its luster when Bosh and Carmelo Anthony make their decisions.

There is still talent available, although it may come with a sticker-shock-inducing price.

Considering the going rate for small forwardsfour years, $63 million for Gordon Hayward; three years, $46 million for Chandler Parsons—veterans Luol Deng and Trevor Ariza could be looking to cash in on the open market. If the Heat take the best-player-available route and pursue restricted free agents, they would have to pay a premium to land someone like Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix Suns) or Greg Monroe (Detroit Pistons).

Even without James, Miami can still form a pretty compelling recruiting pitch:

Yet, Wade might not see any impact names appear on the Heat's transaction log for a while.

As Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb observed, there is a strong motivation for Miami to take a long-term approach with regard to its future.

"Though Wade wouldn't like it, there may be some sense in tanking away the 2014-15 season in order to secure a premium draft pick in 2015," Babb wrote. "If that pick doesn't fall among the top 10 selections, it belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers. So there's some incentive for the Heat to be really, really bad."

After spending the last four seasons adapting to a new seat of teammates, Wade might become Miami's chameleon once again.

For one, he'll be reinstalled as the team's primary offensive option. It's a role he had perfected before the superteam's creation in 2010—26.8 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 7.0 assists per game in the six seasons prior—but one he will now need to master in different ways.

"You have to reinvent yourself," Riley said of Wade, per B/R's Ethan Skolnick. "What reinventing is, is the concept: What does he have to do mentally, physically, spiritually to get to another level at that age of 32?"

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photogra
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Wade had transformed into a wildly efficient Robin to James' Batman, connecting on a career-best 54.5 percent of his field-goal attempts this past season.

But Wade no longer has James' creativity, nor the defensive attention he demanded. Wade will now have to fight for his own offense, a struggle compounded by the way his basketball mileage has changed his game.

He struggled out of isolation looks in 2013-14, ranking 117th in the league with a conversion rate of only 0.81 points per possession, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). While he was still one of the league's most efficient drivers—54.6 percent shooting on those plays, per NBA.com's StatVU player tracking data—he had the benefit of working off James and picking his best possible spots.

With James on the floor, Wade shot 71.7 percent within five feet of the basket and 56.4 percent from five to nine feet away from it, via NBA.com. Without James, those numbers fell to 62.5 and 42.4, respectively.

Wade's reinvention will likely include more time as a post-up player and a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

The good news is that he produced at a high rate on both play types last season. He shot 53 percent out of pick-and-rolls and 51.1 percent on his post-ups.

However, he also turned the ball over on 23.5 percent of pick-and-roll plays, a higher rate than Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (18.7 percent), who tied for the league lead in turnovers per game (3.8). And Wade might not find the same real estate to operate on the low block without James and Bosh at his side.

Wade doesn't have the physical tools he once possessed. He's missed 58 games over the past three seasons and looked gassed in this year's championship round.

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 12: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat looks on against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Four of the 2014 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena on June 12, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

He'll need to outsmart the defenders he once simply outran. Mentality, not physicality, will be the key to stuffing his stat sheet and helping Miami fill the win column, assuming that's still an immediate goal.

This is going to be a learning process, both for Wade and the Heat.

He has served as the franchise centerpiece before, but now he will try to become its bridge. The championship window that opened on James' arrival closed with his departure. Whether Miami cashes in its cap savings this summer or holds them for later, the ultimate goal is getting back into the title race.

Wade won't be the lead runner in that pursuit, but he could be the one positioning the Heat in the starting blocks. That's probably not how he pictured spending his twilight years, but James' decision changed a lot of things—and Wade's future might be atop that list.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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