Is that a sigh of relief out of Miami? Or the winds of change that are blowing?
The decision by Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem to join LeBron James in opting out of their contracts to become free agents — Chris Bosh is still deciding — either cracks the door open for a return of the most star-studded team in the NBA or starts a line at the exit.
Nothing is settled yet. But like Pat Riley says, it’s time to get a grip.
According to ESPN, Wade will give up $41.8 million and the last two years of his deal, Bosh $42.6 million for two years and Haslem will not exercise his player option for $4.6 million.
Coming less than three days before the start of the free agency period, the move doesn’t yet mean the party continues in South Beach, but is the necessary first step.
“Today we were notified of Dwyane’s intention to opt-out of his contract and Udonis’ intention to not opt into his contract, making both players free agents,” Heat president Riley said in a statement issued by the club. “Dwyane has been the cornerstone of our organization for over a decade, and we hope he remains a part of the Heat family for life. Udonis has been the heartbeat of this team for 11 years. He has sacrificed countless times to make this organization successful, and he is the epitome of what this organization stands for. We look forward to meeting with Dwyane and Udonis and their agent in the coming days to discuss our future together.”
Following Miami’s dismal 4-1 loss to the Spurs in The Finals, it was clear that the Heat were not just outplayed, but overmatched in terms of strength in the starting lineup and depth on the bench. Veteran forward Shane Battier showed considerable wear on his game and announced his retirement following the series, while 38-year-old guard Ray Allen, who was inconsistent all year long, recently said he’d like to return for a 19th NBA season.
Point guard Mario Chalmers was particularly ineffective against San Antonio and the Heat are known to be interested in Raptors free agent Kyle Lowry.
Bosh has reportedly said he’d be willing to take a reduction in annual salary, playing for $15 million to $16 million per season, if he got a new five-year commitment. If James and Wade are also ready to play for less in annual salary, the Heat would be able to boost their overall talent level and get right back into the hunt as championship contenders in the Eastern Conference.
The knee-jerk reaction to defeat by the Spurs was that the glorious and brief Heat Era had come to an end after two championships and four straight trips to The Finals.
Teams from Cleveland to Houston to Los Angeles have been lining up to take their best shot at convincing James to make another jersey switch and relocation, and he might still listen to the sweet nothings they whisper into his ear before making a final decision.
But Riley threw down the challenge last week for all of his stars to stand their ground.
“I think everybody needs to get a grip,” Riley said. “This stuff is hard. You have to stay together and find the guts. You don’t find the door and run out of it.”
That door is now cracked open and that’s good news in Miami, if only the first step.