Pat Riley is the longest-tenured general manager in the NBA – he’s been with the Heat since 1995. First as head coach/President, then just as GM, then he went back to the sidelines for a few years and won another title before returning to the front office.
Dwyane Wade, Mr. Miami, was drafted by the Heat and spent all 13 of his seasons with the franchise.
So how did things go so wrong, so fast? (They’re asking the same question in Oklahoma City about Kevin Durant, and there’s still no clarity.)
Dan LeBatard covered a lot of it in this terrific column, but he left a trail of bread crumbs ahead of Wade’s decision, which came Wednesday night when Flash bid adieu to the Heat and signed with the Chicago Bulls.
The questions that will be asked all week: How much did LeBron have to do with this, and was there any way the two sides could have ended this amicably?
And … no.
Let’s start with LeBron’s end in Miami. It wasn’t pretty. He’s cryptically said that someone told him, “Going back home is the worst mistake in your career” before he made the decision to return to Cleveland in 2014. He’s never revealed who said that, but many in the Miami media speculate that it was Pat Riley.
LeBron doesn’t forget – he’s the Godfather, remember – and the guess here is this summer, he found an opening: Hey Dwyane, you’ve never been the highest paid player on the franchise you essentially carried for almost a decade. And they don’t want to pay you now? You need that Kobe deal!
Wade probably got off the banana boat and was ready to play hardball. Knowing he couldn’t win with Riley – one of the shrewdest negotiators in the league – Wade began flirting with Denver and Milwaukee. Didn’t go anywhere. I fell for Cleveland as an option, and maybe Miami did too, but we’ll never know. The Heat finally offered Wade 2-years and $40 million, but that wasn’t enough. The damage was done.
So finally, Wade met with Miami owner Mickey Arison. What if he said: It’s me or Riley? Look at it from Wade’s perspective. Riley’s 71. Trading Wade would mean losing two starters and three of your top seven players (don’t forget Iso Joe Johnson), and falling back in the East while building around a flighty center you just gave $98 million to, a guy with a recent history of blood clots (Chris Bosh), and two kids with potential who can’t even rent a car (Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson).
Wade’s sell was easy: I love this city, I want to end my career here, and I’ll pack the arena nightly.
Now, look at it from Miami’s perspective. We couldn’t beat the Raptors in the 2nd round after getting pushed by Charlotte in the 1st round. Wade made 15 percent of his 3-pointers in the regular season. Clearly, his best days are behind him. It’s a bad look to let him walk because fans love him, but is it a worse look to put ourselves in salary cap hell like the crap the Lakers are dealing with?
And then the Heat picked Riley, and Wade’s back to the city he grew up in.
Loyalty is overrated. Sports can be ruthless. Owners are cutthroat, why can’t the players be, too?