Four years ago, LeBron James famously dumped his Cavs’ team on national TV to jump ship and join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami in one of the most unpopular, yet successful free agent ventures in NBA history. Four years, two titles, and one blowout finals loss later, the Heat are broken and in need of a roster boost to get back to that championship-level basketball that James clearly wants to be a part of.
With James able to execute the early termination option in his contract this summer and become a free agent again, the Heat need to figure a way to upgrade the roster—short of using draft picks, which they’re short on—to keep him in the fold.
What’s the Heat’s biggest issue? Dwyane Wade. Here are three reasons why James’s decision should rest on what Wade does:
1. They’re no longer ‘The Big 3’ with Wade.
Anyone who watched the most recent NBA finals saw that Wade, sadly, is washed up.
The guy who was once the main attraction on a Heat squad that won the NBA title in 2006, averaging 28.4 points per game in the playoffs that year with those lightning-quick moves to the basket, was rendered useless by the Spurs earlier this month.
He was actually so ineffective on offense that San Antonio was able to put whatever slow defender they wanted on him, have them play off a few feet, and dare him to shoot over them—something Wade couldn’t do. Instead, he continually tried to drive past them and either put up a floater in the lane or watch his shot get blocked at the rim—something that never happened in his prime.
If Wade, at 32, is going to be effective going forward, he’s either going to have to regain the speed he’s so quickly lost, or reinvent himself as a long-range shooter—something he’s never specialized in.
2. Wade’s contract is the deal breaker.
Just like James, Wade can execute his early termination option and either sign a new deal with Miami or go somewhere else. But if he goes somewhere else, it’ll involve a major pay cut.
Currently Wade is set to make more than $40 million over the next two years in Miami, which is an exorbitant amount for someone at his career stage. Should he not exercise his option, the Heat will be in trouble—just ask the Lakers, who’ve foolishly derailed their next two seasons by promising an over-the-hill Kobe Bryant an astonishing $48.5 million between now and then.
The only way the Heat can add to the roster, and add a guy like Carmelo Anthony, is if Wade agrees to take a pay cut, like he did four years ago. James and Bosh would likely have to follow suit, but if Wade doesn’t, there’s no point in them signing for less if it’s not enough to lure Carmelo.
3. Wade and James can barely co-exist effectively on the court anymore.
The whispers started in last year’s finals when Wade looked like he had lost a step. Putting him on the court with James—who also thrives when driving to the rim—is not an ideal situation anymore.
Why? With defenders sagging on Wade, there is little room in the lane for James to operate and smart coaches like Gregg Popovich will gladly expose him.
When “The Big 3” first came together four years ago, the plan to surround them was simple—sign some 3-point shooters to stretch the defense and open the lane for James and Wade.
Unless Wade can develop a 3-point shot that defenders will have to respect, he’s going to have to come off the bench and play when James needs a breather.