2015-16 brought lots of promise for the Miami Heat, they pushed the Raptors to seven games in the Conference Semi’s, were cautiously optimistic about the potential of signing Kevin Durant, but had a few question marks heading into the offseason, namely what would happen with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

Pay Riley really blew it with this Wade situation. The Heat weren’t going to truly contend for the Eastern Conference Championship with or without Wade, so why not give him a legacy deal ala Kobe Bryant and let him ride off into the sunset with Coach Spoelstra and Riley while still, likely, making the second round of the playoffs?
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Reasons the Heat had to be excited for the future, especially Summer 2016:

-Hopeful that Hassan Whiteside stays put for less than the max

-Bosh would get cleared to play in 2016-17

-Knew they had found steals in Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, wanted to keep both for reasonable salaries

-Promising rookie year from Justise Winslow

-Stability in the front office and with Eric Spoelstra as coach

-Looking towards 2016-17 to be a top 4 seed in the East

…And keeping Wade would be a no-brainer

What transpired in the Summer 2016 for the Heat:

-Lost Assistant Coach David Fizdale to the Grizzlies

-Announced Chris Bosh would never play again for the Heat

-Signed Hassan Whiteside to 4 year, $98 million max contract

-Signed Josh Richardson to a three-year contract off their taxpayer mid-level exception

-Matched Brooklyn’s offer sheet to Tyler Johnson to a 4 year, $50 million poison pill type contract. (Year 1, $5.6, Year 2, $5.8, Year 3, $18.8, Year 4, $19.6)

-Lost Luol Deng to the Lakers

-Signed Derrick Williams to 1 year, $5 million

-Signed Dion Waiters to 2 year, $6 million

-Did not sign Kevin Durant

-Let Dwayne Wade sign with the Chicago Bulls

That last one still hasn’t set in, for the Heat, Wade, or the fans in Miami. After an emotional return to South Beach last week, Wade himself said it was the weirdest game he’s ever been a part of and couldn’t wait for it to end.

Summer 2016 will be remembered by Wade finally asked to trade in his chips he’s been holding on to for the last 2 free agencies he’s been through with Miami. He was asked on two separate occasions to take massive pay cuts, during the tail end of his prime, to allow for the Heat to surround him with one of the greatest rosters ever assembled.

The kicker? The divorce between Wade and the Heat took place so late in this past summers free agency period that it decimated the rest of the roster for this upcoming season, only allowing themselves to sign low end, spare parts type players. While the Waiters and Williams deal may end up looking good down the line, do they really replace the massive vacancy left by the franchises greatest player?

There is only one way for the Heat to truly salvage this situation, and the South Beach faithful aren’t going to like it.

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The Heat have been notorious for never tanking and trading away their first round picks in lieu of developing young talent (Wade’s career notwithstanding), BUT they do have their first round draft pick in 2017, and it made be extremely beneficial for them to tank. Miami owes second-round picks in 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021, so they can’t expect to find any steals in the near future, but considering the abundance of a solid supporting type players on the roster, tanking for a top 3 pick and a potential superstar could be a sneaky way to vault themselves back in the title picture.

The final factor of contending in the East is the timeline of the Cavaliers and how it coincides with the future of the Heat. If Winslow and their top pick become stars in 4-5 years (looking at 2021-22) that should be far beyond enough from this current iteration of the Cavaliers that the Heat may have the best young core in the league.

Obviously this plan doesn’t account for where Whiteside’s career trajectory fits in, and Whiteside still looks great, Hassan is already 28. He’s quickly turning into the best defensive big man since Dwight Howard in his prime, but there’s no way he can maintain this type of consistency beyond 2019.

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The Wade debacle is a two fold failure, because not only do they lose Wade, but they also lose the ‘Heat Familia’ legacy, one that Riley has spent years nourishing. The idea being that once you are part of the Heat family, they take care of their own, even if it is a detriment to their long term success. Udonis Haslem has a lifetime pass with the Heat, and although there was a rocky part of the Mourning relationship, he was eventually taken care of as a Heat lifer. The Heats best player in franchise history was expected to receive any deal he desired, especially given that he’s already sacrificed money twice in the past to ensure short term success with ‘The Big Three’. Chris Bosh even got a second max contract before Wade did, and he was only on the Heat a few years. (Granted Bosh was younger and has a better overall game, but isn’t loyalty Riley’s signature?) This final decision to let Wade walk may be the lasting legacy that Riley leaves on the Heat, given that people are assuming he won’t stick around for too many more years.
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Below is a pull from HoopeHype.com:
It’s not a stretch to say Wade made the biggest salary sacrifices in the history of basketball, turning down tens of millions of dollars in two contracts to help the Heat facilitate signings of James and Chris Bosh in 2010 while also keeping longtime teammate Udonis Haslem. “You do things because you want to do them. All those things I did to stay in Miami was because I wanted to do them,” Wade said. “When I made the sacrifice, when I could’ve gotten $127 million and I took $110 million to make sure LeBron and Chris (come) but I also have UD (Haslem) stay, those were things I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be in Miami and enjoy the success and not have UD there.”
– via CSN Chicago
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Those are the words of someone who never wanted to leave the team that drafted him.
While the Heat may have been smart in not wanted to hitch their franchise to an aging star whose reliance on athleticism and lack of a consistent jump shot raises many red flags for a 33 year old shooting guard, the alternative wasn’t the prettiest or most intriguing path. Whiteside as number one option? A core of Dragic-Winslow-Whiteside? The Heat are a perennially contending type of franchise, much like the Lakers, and while Los Angeles has gone through the rebuilding process the right way, Heat owner Micky Arison and Pat Riley must decide the future of the Heat ASAP if they want a jumpstart on becoming contenders again, because with the current roster construction they are looking at being mired in mediocrity for years.
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