Published On: Fri, Feb 9th, 2018

The return of Wade County

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Welcome home, Dwyane.

An awkward departure in 2016 now has an opportunity to be repaired. Dwyane Wade left the Miami Heat after 13 seasons because he wanted to get paid. Wade believed he deserved to be compensated for the pay cuts he’d taken for the betterment of the roster, for putting the franchise on the map in ways others were unable.

Things didn’t go his way. His spat with basketball’s favorite godfather, Heat president Pat Riley, forced them to go their separate ways as Riley chose to pay Hassan Whiteside instead. Wade fled to his hometown to play for the Chicago Bulls and, just like that, his Heat-lifer tag was gone.

However, his situation with the Bulls went south quickly after they gutted their roster following the first year of Wade’s contract. A buyout last summer gave Heat fans hope that Wade would return. It was tempting, but he ultimately decided to buy a winter coat and head to Cleveland to play with his best friend, LeBron James.

The presumption was that Wade wanted to chase championships instead of returning to his adopted home. Miami wasn’t built to even sniff title contention, whereas James has made seven straight NBA Finals – the first four with Wade in Miami.

The much-discussed tragedy of the 2017-18 Cavaliers changed that. A disastrous month of basketball led to a trade deadline fire sale for the distraught Cleveland front office. The locker room was completely torn.

And like any good parent, Riley swooped in to bring Miami’s favorite son back home.

Riley got Wade for cheap – a heavily protected 2024 second-round pick for the 36-year-old – after Cleveland acquired a plethora of guards who would take his minutes. The trades basically destroyed Wade’s value to Cleveland.

To Miami? Wade is worth the world.

The past: Wade’s historic importance to South Beach

It’s easy to forget how great Wade was, but he hasn’t been dominant since Miami’s last championship run. His body has broken down through the years as any normal person’s does with age, but that doesn’t take away the historical significance of this move to Heat fans.

Wade was drafted in 2003 in what will forever be known as one of the all-time best NBA drafts. The franchise grew in importance in the 90s, as Riley ‘s arrival as head coach gave the roster a persona as one of the NBA’s most hated. Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning led the way for Miami for several years before falling ill with a life-threatening kidney disease. That turned the franchise from a staple among the East’s best to a middling roster with no legitimate star.

There was excitement when Miami took a chance and drafted Wade out of Marquette after leading the third-seeded Golden Eagles to the Final Four – including an insane triple-double effort against the heavily favored Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

As a rookie, he led Miami to a 42-win season and a playoff-series win against the New Orleans Hornets. Riley then swung a deal in 2004 to acquire one of the biggest personalities in league history – Shaquille O’Neal.

In just his second season, Wade became an All-Star, averaging 24.1 points, 6.8 assists, and 5.2 rebounds. In his third year, it became evident this was Wade’s team. O’Neal, after a history of arguably being the most dominant force of all time, became a sidekick. It was Wade, not O’Neal, who led Miami to their first NBA Finals appearance. It was Wade, not Mourning, who won the Heat their first championship. In just his third season, Wade became the greatest player in Heat history.

That legacy stuck throughout his Heat tenure. When Wade was left with no help on a depleted roster filled with rookies and rejects, the team still won a combined 90 games over two seasons (2008-09 and 2009-10), as he forced his way into the MVP conversation.

This made Miami an attractive destination for Wade’s good friends – James and Chris Bosh – who followed him to South Beach in 2010. This superteam helped Wade add another two championships to his already-full trophy case.

Wade played two more seasons with the Heat after James returned to Cleveland. But, when Wade left, there was plenty of controversy. At the end of the day, though, it was a business decision Riley had to make. It was time to move on and spend the Heat’s money elsewhere.

“Wade County” reverted back to “Miami-Dade County.” The Heat had to move on. But, apparently, not for too long.

The present: Can Wade still help the Heat?

Wade is a shell of his former self, and understandably so. He isn’t the bouncy superstar who averaged 30 points in his prime. He can still create his own shot, but the consistency of him doing so isn’t comparable to the old Wade.

The good news is he’s looked better this season playing reduced minutes compared to the previous two. Wade has a bit more bounce in his step lately. He’s carrying less of a burden and taking on opposing reserves on a more consistent basis, helping him find somewhat of a groove throughout his short tenure with the Cavaliers.

Depending on Wade’s role, the expectations for him should be tempered. It won’t be easy for Heat fans after watching one of the all-time greats for 13 seasons, but he should be watched through sentimental eyes.

There are, however, certain aspects of his game that are noteworthy at this stage of his career. Wade has developed better habits on the defensive end. The Cavaliers are one of the NBA’s worst defensive teams and their embarrassing defensive efforts on a nightly basis were the impetus for the deadline day roster destruction. But very little of that was Wade’s fault.

Wade’s defensive rating on the year is a pretty decent 105.8. When he sat, the Cavaliers were an abysmal 112.9. Wade’s effort to lead a bench unit of plodding defenders (Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, and Jeff Green) was mesmerizing. The Heat have been tremendous defensively and Wade’s addition shouldn’t hinder that.

Wade’s still a phenomenal passer. Having Whiteside on the floor with him should bring excitement to the franchise again, as the two connected well before Wade’s initial departure. Miami didn’t have a high-IQ post-passer or lob specialist, but they do now with Wade around. He’s also done a great job on the boards, grabbing 9.5 percent of available rebounds per game – the second-highest mark of his career.

There shouldn’t be any expectation that Wade will bring a championship to Miami. Those days are clearly done. But for the time being, Wade is an effective player when his minutes are reduced. He still plays with intelligence when he isn’t trying to do too much and he gives Miami something they’d been missing: a closer.

The future: Miami will always be Wade’s home

This could be Wade’s last season, but there’s no way to be certain. The good news is it’s safe to say he’s ecstatic about the trade and he’s happy to be back where he’s wanted.

Wade built a Heat legacy that will never be forgotten. He built upon something guys like Rony Seikaly, Glen Rice, Mourning, and Tim Hardaway started. He made it so much better.

It’s hard to imagine Wade moving on to another franchise. The likelihood is he’s here to stay and his role will continue to diminish as the keys to the franchise are given to the likes of Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow. With Riley’s unpredictability, who knows who’ll be around a couple years from now because he’s always willing to go for it all like few others.

But if we know one thing, it’s that Riley will let Wade unpack his bags and settle down in 601 Biscayne Boulevard. It is, after all, Wade’s house.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

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