There was a point in the not-so-distant past when the first week of July was nearly stress-free in Miami. Now, for the third time in five years, South Florida is experiencing collective palpitations.
Just one year removed from the biggest free agency departure in the city’s history — LeBron James’s return to Cleveland, of course — Heat fans again find themselves nauseously consuming every scrap of Dwyane Wade gossip, starved for any morsel of information.
To social media sleuths, no clue is inconsequential. One must only skim the Heat’s subreddit page to find posts unearthing Wade’s latest Twitter fav or Instagram follow. In NBA free agency, social media is to Heat fans what WebMD is to hypochondriacs.
He just followed Justise Winslow on Instagram. THIS IS PROMISING.
Thanks in large part to that blue bird on everyone’s phone and its endless offerings of 140-character nuggets, it’s up to fans to decide when they’ve reached sports news satiation. For many in Florida this week, there is no cut-off point.
The most funny example of social media scrutiny doubles as the most challenging anecdote to explain to anyone over 40. Wade’s son shared a video through Snapchat of his father singing along to Rihanna’s “B—- better have my money” and captioned it “Dedicated to the heat.” The idea of middle-aged hot-takers staking their reputations on a teenager’s video should at the very least make you smile. So should Rihanna’s peripheral involvement.
You can also point to the city’s obsession with past-tense verbs, starting with Wade’s “When I was in Miami” anecdote from his guest analyst appearance during the NBA Finals and most recently, his wife warning Heat draft pick Winslow that people might misspell his first name, an issue with which Wade “dealt.”
It gets worse. No joke: At this very moment, there are real conversations in actual sports bars about Wade deciding to “follow” a Cavs fan who has a keen interest in Photoshopping Cavaliers jerseys onto Wade’s torso. Yet another reminder that this is sports in 2015. What a year to be alive.
To the dispassionate outsider, Wade’s free agency may seem somewhat Tim Duncan-esque in its inevitability. Twelve years, three championships and several contract extensions will have that effect. Wade’s affinity for the city and the franchise is well documented, so the idea of him bolting for a less-talented team with cap room, particularly if that means moving to a colder climate (sorry, New York), seems unlikely. It’s easy to make the argument that a 33-year-old Wade should be worth more to the Heat than any other franchise for a host of non-basketball reasons, particularly the team’s familial self-branding and somewhat passive aggressive #Heatlifer campaign following LeBron’s exit.
But at its core, this is a negotiation between two intensely prideful and competitive individuals. On one side, you have the player who sacrificed his joints, ligaments, ego and dollars for championship banners. He brought the organization its first trophy, then recruited the best player in the world for four years of his prime. Never having been the highest-paid player on any of his Heat teams, he now feels justified in asking for a healthy raise.
On the other end of the table sits Pat Riley, a power-move personified, who possesses almost as many championship rings as fingers. Riley had no qualms challenging James’s pride after the team lost to the Spurs in the 2014 Finals and is not shy about his 2016 free agency ambitions, which of course requires cap space.
Wade opted out of his $16.1 million deal for next season and wants a multi-year commitment. There have already been reports that Wade is seeking something in the three-year, $60 million range, which would effectively take Miami out of the high-stakes 2016 free agency game, while also making it challenging to sign its breakout, 7-foot star-in-the-making, Hassan Whiteside.
The smart business move in sports is always to take a purely capitalistic approach: Pay for future returns, not past performances. Riley could take a hard-line stance and tell Wade to find another team willing to pay him $20 million a year, in effect calling his bluff. Wade’s durability is no secret (he played in just 75 percent of possible regular season games the last four seasons) and combined with his mileage, he might be overestimating the willingness of potential suitors. ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported as much.
League execs telling me there is not a robust market for DWade because of his age (33) and injury problems.
— Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) June 30, 2015
But it only takes one outlandish offer from another team for that to backfire. Wade is also holding pocket aces: a move to Cleveland to join his buddy LeBron, which would also serve as the ultimate last laugh, even if it comes with a severe pay cut. Heck, Wade’s father was even seen wearing a Cavs shirt last month.
Wade’s friendship with James and mild flirtation with Cleveland fuels emotional responses from the fan base, prompting a range of visceral reactions. Tune into the local hour of Dan Le Batard’s ESPN radio show, and you’ll hear the host read texts from listeners castigating Wade for his — again, reported — contractual preferences, often followed by a swear word or two and a closing wish for Wade and his deteriorating knees to play elsewhere. But there are also the voices yelling at Riley to pay Wade whatever he wants regardless of salary cap implications, with no cost being too steep — especially when it’s someone else’s money — if it means keeping Wade in Miami and far away from Cleveland.
Wade has spent the past few weeks straddling the line between gaining negotiating leverage while trying not to completely alienate his fans. More than a decade into his career, Wade is aware of the emotions involved — but more importantly, he knows that his decision in the next few weeks will dwarf any details from the past month. So do the fans.
As the world waits and Miami holds its breath, just don’t expect Wade to stop favoriting or the fans to stop refreshing his Twitter feed.