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Pat Riley, the literal Godfather (complete with the slicked back hair and legendary tales of free agency recruitment pitches consisting of “are you man enough for this?” followed by a cascading pile of NBA Championship rings), claims to be “shocked” and “very regretful” that Dwyane Wade is now a member of the Chicago Bulls. Riley, who has chosen to shoulder the supposed “blame” for Wade’s departure, has in public “taken responsibility” for the loss of the three-time NBA champion, who was thought to be a Heat lifer after thirteen seasons in Miami.
Pat Riley is not this week’s worst person in the world of sports because he failed to resign Wade, that was a shrewd and calculated business move which I will address shortly. Riley is, however, this week’s crowned prince of douche for what he’s done after the departure of “the single most beloved athlete in the history of Miami,” as ESPN’s Dan Le Batard described the 2006 NBA Finals MVP.
Riley could have easily resigned Wade. The Heat not only had the requisite cap room after striking out with Kevin Durant, but possessed Wade’s bird rights, allowing Miami to go over the salary cap in order to re-sign their starting guard. With the loss of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson, the Heat even with Wade could have avoided the dreaded luxury tax with minor roster tinkering, likely preventing the acquisition of Wayne Ellington. Big fucking deal.
What Riley did here, which is shockingly clear to me yet hasn’t been discussed, is not only call Wade’s bluff by refusing to increase Miami’s two-year $40 million contract offer, but he actually HOPED Wade would have the testicular fortitude to uproot Gabrielle Union from South Beach to the Windy City.
Now, before you go ranting in the comments section like I just posted an anti-Beyoncé monologue on YouTube, hear me out. Wade is now entering his 14th NBA season, is a player that, in his first nine years, placed in the top 10 in total minutes played in the entire league, and has suffered a string of perpetually nagging injuries since LeBron took his talents to South Beach.
Aside from his age and history of injury, the player once known as “flash” simply isn’t that good anymore. Even last season, statistically his best since the inaugural season of the “Big 3,” Wade’s advanced metrics on the defensive end were the worst of his career. The Miami Heat hardly skipped a beat with Wade off the floor, a scary proposition when you consider the primary backup to Wade during the postseason was undrafted Rookie Tyler Johnson.
So if you’re Pat Riley, for the first time in almost a decade you’ve got a real mess on your hands in Miami. You missed out on Durant, you’ve signed the riskiest max player in recent memory to a 5 year deal in Hassan Whiteside, the Dragic trade looks like at best a minor bust, Chris Bosh is probably still in a hospital somewhere, and now your fading star wants retribution for past salary restructurings to accommodate now-departed stars. What the fuck do you do?
Like an NBA 2K dynasty gone horribly awry: you blow it up and reload. Riley clearly realizes that even if his entire core returned in 2016, there’s no way, barring an outbreak of Ebola in Cleveland and Boston, that the elderly Heat could get past upstart Boston, nor the defending champion Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. With Wade, Dragic, Whiteside, Richardson, and Johnson, the Heat would likely find themselves in NBA purgatory: a 6-8 seed without hope of a title, maybe slightly better if Bosh can ever return.
So with 2016 a lost cause, it is time to prepare for 2017 and beyond, an upcoming summer featuring perhaps the best free agent class ever with LeBron, KD, Westbrook, Griffin, and Chris Paul all likely becoming unrestricted free agents. In a league now clearly built on super teams, what better city to team up in than Miami with its endless cap space, picturesque venue, and ownership committed to winning even if the roster carries an immense luxury tax penalty? I can’t think of any.
So Riley went to work offloading salary, letting Deng and Johnson walk, resigning the best young asset he had, a big man to pair with a future guard (I’m thinking Paul) and threw Wade a truly outrageous offer (one year, $10 million in an offseason in which Kent Bazemore got $18 million a season) to start things off on the wrong foot. Then, Riley’s “hardline stance” refusing to up the Heat’s offer from $40 million to the $47M Chicago had given Wade, without any semblance of a practical reason, cemented the discontent between the parties, with Wade for the first time in over a decade considering a move.
Keep in mind that the Heat proceeded to use their cap space, from which they refused to allot just $7 million more to secure Wade for two to three more years, on Derrick Williams, Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed, and Luke Babbit. Don’t know those guys? Yeah, no fucking kidding. But still, the Heat refused to budge, as their beloved Wade asked for nothing more than a salary and years match to stay “home” in Miami, instead of going “home” to Chicago.
But of course, Riley refused. The lack of a two-year guarantee allows the Heat to enter 2017 (keeping in mind the expected salary cap increase) with up to $60 million in cap space, their first lottery pick in almost a decade, and the flexibility to move Dragic to create even more room to sign stars. Miami can pitch not one, but two, and perhaps even three stars on combining to conquer the league in South Beach, with a young center already locked up and intriguing young talent stuck on rookie deals making pennies of their actual worth in Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. Hard to beat the roster flexibility, location, Pat Riley’s leadership, and the endless pockets of owner Micky Arison. I could see Paul and Griffin in Miami next season.
Good job, Pat. Again you outsmarted everyone and have the Bulls looking like an 11-year-old’s fantasy team while maintaining the exact flexibility you want (imagine if Bosh is granted a medical retirement and he’s off the books too, or if he ever comes back as another star), but PLEASE cut this public D-Wade remorse tour bullshit out. It’s tiring, it’s disingenuous, and it’s beneath you..
Image via YouTube