A year ago, the Heat went into the summer with Pat Riley pressing on Dwyane Wade to “change the narrative” about his health and stop missing games. It wasn’t the warmest start to the offseason, and it got rockier from there before Miami secured him with a one-year, $20 million deal.
This time should go much more smoothly. To the surprise of many, Wade lived up to that salary with a strong season and terrific performance in the playoffs while reasserting himself as one of the biggest stars in the NBA. He was so impressive that Riley called this year better than any he had during the Big Three era and had little to chide him about as he packed up his locker.
“I told him not to go over 230 pounds this summer or I’ll come looking for him,” Riley said with a smirk.
Wade will be a free agent again July 1, and both sides intend this to be a painless negotiation. The team wants him to play his entire career in Miami, and he appears to share that yearning.
The only legitimate uncertainty about Wade’s future with the Heat seems to be the logistics of whether they’ll be able to give him one final multi-year deal or creatively structure some short ones to maximize their ability to land a prized free agent such as Kevin Durant.
Wade was unwilling to talk parameters for his next contract when the season ended, but seemed optimistic.
“You just never know what’s going to happen in a player’s career,” he said. “The contract that I look forward to sign this summer will be something I’m comfortable with.”
From the team’s perspective, Riley left no ambiguity when he said, “He’s a lifer. What he’s done in this city over the last 13 years is irreplaceable. We’ll do the right thing. There’s no doubt.”
While it’s difficult to support Riley’s claim of this being Wade’s best season since before the Big Three, it was unquestionably a resurgence. Health has been his biggest hindrance the past few years, and the 74 games he played this season marked his highest since 2010-11. He was third on the team in minutes at 2,258.
Being available was one goal, but staying productive was an equal challenge. Wade did that with averages of 22.5 points, 5.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. His 45.6 shooting percentage was the lowest of his career, but still eighth in the NBA among perimeter players.
He was a postseason hero, lifting Miami out of a 3-2 hole in the first round with 23 points and a dominant finish in Game 6 at Charlotte. He went for efficient 38- and 30- point games against Toronto in the next round.
It was mostly classic Wade outside of one intriguing development: He suddenly stepped forward as a deadly 3-point shooter. Over the final two games against the Hornets and the entire seven-game series with the Raptors, Wade hit a stunning 12 of 22 from deep.
Despite having the second-lowest 3-point percentage in NBA history, Wade has often talked about implementing that weapon during this late phase of his career. This was the most promising sign yet that he might actually make this part of his game.
“It will be if I want to keep playing,” said Wade, who will turn 35 next season. “I’ll work on it, and whenever I need to go to it, hopefully it goes in. I always work on it more in the playoffs because you’ve just got more time to focus.
“In the regular season, we’re traveling and this and that and I just work on spots I know I’m shooting from in the games. I have more time in the playoffs to work on certain things.”
It might be time to start working those drills regularly. Riley certainly thinks so.
“When you work in a program like [Erik Spoelstra] has for three-point shooters, if you did it for 20 minutes a day, you’re gonna improve,” Riley said of Wade’s future as a long-range shooter. “He has a release point and a shot that will allow him to move two or three feet back without throwing the ball up there. The 3s I saw, every time he lifted and released, I said, ‘This has got a chance.’
“Working on that stuff really helped him. He’s gonna need that going into next year. He could maybe become a 38 or 40 percent 3-point shooter. I wouldn’t give him an open look.”
Then Riley added the ultimate motivator for Wade by saying he should extend his range because, “nobody ever thinks he can do that.”
It’s hard for anyone, even Wade, to predict how many more of these seasons he has left, but the Heat have every reason to count on him as part of their core going into next year and he has every reason to insist he’s worth at least as much as they paid him last year. If those beliefs are compatible, this should be the quiet process both sides desire.