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How the Heat and Dwyane Wade Can Solve Their Contract Dispute

Things have really come full circle for the fans of Heat Nation. Following a streak of four straight Finals appearances, including back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, the bottom fell out. LeBron James left, the plague and the injury bug apparently had some sort of tag-team vendetta against Miami for whatever reason, and suddenly the Heat and their fans went from worrying about third quarters to worrying about Chris Bosh‘s lungs.

Just when you thought it was finally over, whoever’s holding the Heat voodoo doll decided to stick a few needles into the heart of it for the heck of it. That pain came in the form of the sudden development, first reported by the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson, that Dwyane Wade would consider leaving Miami if contract negotiations didn’t go well. Wade is owed $16.1 million next season, unless he decides to opt out. Wade recognizes that with his career coming to an end soon, this is his time to cash in on his last big payday.

WHY DWYANE WADE HAS A CASE

According to the initial report from Jackson, Wade is looking for a “lucrative, three-year deal” from the Heat, and that’s more than fair for a few reasons.

The most basic case is that despite the Heat missing the postseason, individually Wade still performed at a near-elite level last year, averaging 21.6 points on 47 percent shooting to go along with 4.8 assists per game and 1.2 steals per game. That’s not bad at all for a guy who just turned 33 in January. In fact, the list of shooting guards to put up at least 21 points per game on 45 percent shooting with 4.5 assists per game for a season at age 32 or older includes Wade, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Clyde Drexler, Jerry West, Hal Greer and Walter Davis.

Beyond that, not only is Wade the greatest player in Heat history, he’s sacrificed his ego and quite a bit of money over the past half decade. Wade’s ascension to superstardom in 2006, highlighted by his insane Finals performance, was the primary reason the Heat won their first championship. Wade’s brotherhood with LeBron and Bosh helped recruit them there in the 2010 offseason. Wade’s decision to take a backseat role instead of the passenger side seat he had during the 2010-11 season helped accelerate LeBron’s maturation process following his meltdown against Dallas, which led to two more rings in 2012 and 2013.

An odd fact that’s definitely more relevant now than ever before is that Wade has never been the highest paid player on his team. Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal and Shawn Marion each held that title in separate years in the early part of Wade’s career. When the Big Three joined forces in the 2010 offseason, LeBron and Bosh each made more money than Wade did. Even following LeBron’s departure last summer, Bosh re-upped with a full five-year max deal. Wade may not necessarily want a full-blown “Kobe deal” per se, but at some point the Heat must pay their respects to Wade — quite literally.

WHY THE MIAMI HEAT ARE RELUCTANT

While it’s fair to acknowledge Wade performed well last year, it’s also fair to add the familiar caveat that he performed well — when healthy. Wade still missed 20 games last year, meaning he has missed 80 games over his past five seasons; for the math wizards out there, that means he’s averaged 16 missed games per year in that stretch. Take away the name for a minute and look at the Heat’s position at its core; it’s just not smart for Miami to invest three years and major bucks into a 33-going-on-34-year-old guard who’s pretty much guaranteed to miss about 1/5 of the year with various injuries.

The argument could be made that not only is it not smart to make that investment, they might not be able to afford to do so. The Heat need as much salary flexibility as possible heading into 2016, when big-name free agents like Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis (restricted), Dwight Howard and DeMar DeRozan could be available. Heat center Hassan Whiteside is also set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, and he may command near-max money if he can build upon his coming-out-of-nowhere party.

Along with Wade this summer, the Heat also have to find a way to retain Goran Dragic, who will be looking for a hefty pay raise in the $17-20 million annual range. Luol Deng, the Heat’s starting small forward, can opt out of the last year of his deal worth $10.1 million to become a free agent as well.

Let’s not get it twisted; Wade is still likely the Heat’s top priority this summer. If he goes, it’ll make it easier for Dragic to look at other big markets like the Lakers in LA or the Knicks in NY. But the major point here is that the Heat have other priorities moving forward that are almost as important as Wade.

THE SOLUTION

The Heat and Wade could agree to a one-year, $24 million deal this summer, then look to agree to a reasonable two-year deal in 2016.

ESPN’s Michael Wallace suggested the one-year deal part on Twitter, and it makes plenty of sense for both sides. Wade would get nearly an $8 million pay raise, which would make just about anyone happy, but especially Wade since it could help offset some of the money he sacrificed during the Big Three era. The $24 million Wade would make would be slightly higher than the $23.7 million Bosh is scheduled to make next season, which would finally make Wade the highest paid player on his team for the first time ever.

This works out for the Heat because they’d get to maintain their flexibility heading into 2016. The Heat would be able to reevaluate Wade’s production and, more importantly, his health after a year, which should help with negotiations in the summer of 2016. Since Wade is looking for a three-year deal to begin with, giving him a two-year deal in 2016 after his one-year, $24 million deal would essentially be the same thing. Wade could be more willing to take something in the two-year, $32 million range to end his career in Miami as he should.

Seems like a win-win for both sides.

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