MIAMI — Dwyane Wade has said he wants to stay with the Miami Heat. Apparently, that means he has to technically leave first.
Wade told the Heat on Saturday that he is opting out of the final two years of his contract, making him a free agent who may negotiate with any team — Miami included — on July 1. It’s the same option that LeBron James exercised earlier this week, and Bosh’s decision comes out three days after he, James and Chris Bosh met at a posh Miami Beach hotel to discuss their futures.
So now, all eyes are on Bosh, to see if he’ll opt out as well.
The decisions, while risky for the Heat because Bosh and James are no longer locked in to staying, could also become a big gift for Miami. The Heat owed Wade and James a combined $40.9 million for next season, and by opening up that massive amount of salary-cap room Miami now will have tons of money to lure other free agents — as well as maneuver toward keeping its stars together.
Also giving the Heat some salary room on Saturday was Udonis Haslem, who will not pick up his $4.6 million option. Haslem would prefer to stay with the Heat.
The thinking has long been that Bosh, James and Wade would all opt out and take slightly less money in the short-term, with the Heat giving them new long-term contracts in return. That would give Miami plenty of financial flexibility, which it could use to upgrade a team that has won the last four Eastern Conference titles and two of the last three NBA championships.
But Wade took a considerable amount of criticism this past season, first for missing 28 regular-season games — largely because of what the Heat called a maintenance program for his long-problematic knees — and then for struggling in the NBA Finals, which Miami lost in five games to the San Antonio Spurs.
“He’s a champion. He’s a world champion and he’s a Miami Heat for life,” Heat President Pat Riley said last week. “He’s an icon. He’s one of the great players in the world.”
Riley remains sold on Wade’s value to a championship team, though acknowledges that at 32 and with plenty of injuries in his past, some continued evolution to his game — and perhaps his role — could be needed.
“He does have pain but he doesn’t have the debilitating injury that could end his career,” Riley said. “Is there something that will allow him to become physically better? At the same time the roles in all player’s careers change. He’s too smart, he’s too good, he’s too talented to not be able to play a major role for years to come. Those changes, he and I will sit down and we’ll talk about them.”
Bosh is owed about $20.6 million for next season, and if he joins Wade and James in opting out Miami will not only have the utmost financial flexibility but would also be considered the front-runner to keep all three of its stars as well.
The free agent circus technically doesn’t start until next Tuesday, but essentially began when James opted out earlier this week, a move that did not catch the Heat by any surprise.
Sports radio shows and television newscasts in South Florida have been dominated by talk of the “Big 3″ future, and even at Wimbledon, at least one person is keeping a keen eye on what James in particular will be deciding.
“Obviously, we’d like to see him stay in Miami,” said Heat fan Serena Williams, who when she’s not watching basketball is the top-ranked women’s tennis player in the world. “But, hey, you got to keep your options open I guess. I don’t know. It will be really sad to lose him. He’s such a wonderful, great player. He’s brought so many championships to Miami. Hopefully he’ll opt to stay.”
The Heat hope Wade will as well.
He is, without question, the most accomplished player in Heat history, leading the team in several categories on the all-time lists. Wade has spent each of his first 11 seasons with Miami, averaging 24.3 points per game.