For all the talk about LeBron James and his decision to opt-out of his contract with the Miami Heat; the men who hold the key to the future of the Miami Heat are the other two members of the Big Three, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The Heat superstar has known only one team since he entered the NBA. However, his age has started to catch up with him and his game has declined in recent years.
Since peaking in 2008-2009, Wade has seen his scoring average drop from 30.2 to just 19.0 last year. Wade’s PER has dropped over the same period from 30.4 to 22.0 last year. His win/share has also dropped to 5.5, the second-lowest level for his career (non-injury season), and his win/share per 48 minutes has also declined from .232 in 2008 to just .149 last season.
Part of it is Wade changing his role with the team from the leading scorer to more of a facilitator. But another part is nagging injuries and Wade’s knees not allowing him to play the game the way he used to through the first several years of his career.
Last season the Heat kept Wade on the sideline for almost 30 games in the regular season in preparation for the playoffs. Still, Wade struggled in the playoffs, hitting just one of six three pointers in the entire finals and scoring more than 20 points just once. Wade was also almost -10 in +/- in each of the Finals games.
But now, as Wade has to look at changing his game to conform to his age; he is still owed $41.7 million over the final two years of his contract. That contract, and whether he opts-in or out, could determine the Heat’s fate.
If Wade chooses to opt-out and re-sign with the Heat, the team could stretch out his contract over more years, lessening the salary cap hit and giving the team more flexibility to pursue other free agents to improve the roster overall.
For example, Wade could re-sign with the Heat on a four-year, $48 million contract that could drop the cap hit this year to whatever he and the team wanted or keep it simple at $12 million per season.
To a large degree, Chris Bosh could do the same thing as Wade.
Bosh has seen his numbers decline in recent seasons with his points per game (16.2) the second lowest of his career. But, Bosh is still shooting above 50 percent from the field and improved his three-point shooting to 33.9 percent this season.
Bosh’s game has also been to space the floor to allow Wade and James to attack the basket by attracting the opponent’s big man out from under the basket and opening up the lane. His improved three-point shooting has only enhanced that role for the Heat power forward/center.
Bosh has previously said he’d take less money to keep the team together and if he signed a long-term contract, he too could lower his cap hit from $20.6 million this year and $22 million next season to something more team-friendly and aid the team in rebuilding.
The San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan essentially did this when he signed a 3-year, $30 million extension prior to the 2012 season, even though he could have gotten much more as a free agent. Duncan’s team-friendly contract allowed the Spurs to put together a young championship team around him.
The result was the Spurs’ demolition of the Heat this year in the NBA Finals.
If Wade dropped his salary cap number through a new contract, LeBron James and Chris Bosh would likely follow suit and Heat president Pat Riley could rebuild a roster around them. That would keep the Heat at the top of the Eastern Conference for the length of LeBron’s new contract.
Riley has been fiercely loyal to Wade, Udonis Haslem and other players who have helped make the Heat a two-time champion and four-time Finals participant. Wade and Haslem have returned the favor and taken less money to help the Heat put together a champion on the court.
Now, with LeBron having the ability to leave the Heat; Wade and Bosh must answer the question of what is most important to them and how will that impact the Miami Heat next year and in the following years.