Reinventing an image is a hard thing to do. It takes time; it takes effort; it takes convincing, campaigning, more convincing, the assurance of a promising culture, and then even more convincing. It is at this particular juncture that Pat Riley and the Miami Heat now find themselves in. Dwyane Wade has left Miami. Whether Riley should have given Wade the Kobe Bryant-like retirement treatment so Wade could have finished his career as a Heat-lifer is neither here nor there. The Dwyane Wade era is over. The Heat decided to move on and plant a new face, or two, on the proud winning culture they’ve spent years cementing.
It’s not an easy transition for fans – moving on from their memories of joy, championships, and raising one of the greatest two guards to ever play the game. Nostalgia is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a beautiful tragedy to watch your heroes fade away into history. But now the Heat’s front office has invested their chips in Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow, the two young centerpieces of their core. Pat Riley has a business to run and games to win, Whiteside and Winslow give him the greatest possibilities to do so. Miami is looking to retool around the duo with a solid line-up consisting of Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, and Chris Bosh (hopefully, maybe. More on him later).
In retrospect, Miami chose Dragic over Wade. It won’t, and up to this point, hasn’t been talked about in this particular light, but now that the dust has settled, this certainly seems to be the case. In an indirect way, Miami dedicated itself to the younger guard in Dragic last June when they signed him to a five-year, $90 million dollar deal. I say indirect because the Heat still did have the opportunity to sign Wade this summer even with Dragic’s contract, but it would have pushed them heavily over the luxury tax; a line that Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison are known for trying to avoid. They prioritized keeping any overpaying to a minimum, and they knew signing Dragic and Wade would put them well over that line, but they signed Dragic anyway and asked Wade to take less money, and he did. Then they asked Wade to again take less money this year, and he didn’t, and so, Miami let him walk. On top of that, the Heat quickly turned around and matched restricted free agent Tyler Johnson’s four-year, $50 million dollar qualifying offer he had signed with the Brooklyn Nets. That, too, was potential Wade money. The lines look a little more clearer now, don’t they?
Of course, this is all still up in the air considering Bosh is far from a guarantee to ever play an NBA game again. Bosh has been Miami’s focal point of consistency both on and off the court since joining the franchise in 2010. Now, after blood clots were found in his lungs and legs, there is a sincere concern as to whether he will ever be medically cleared by doctors to play again. Not only will it be a tragic day for basketball fans and for Bosh himself, who has missed out on the previous two seasons and may not ever play again at only 32-years-old, but the Heat would lose a heavily respected veteran presence they dearly need. As far as finances go, the Heat have nearly $76 million dollars tied up in Bosh’s contract for the next three seasons, which is just north of $23.5 million per year. To be relieved of that cap hit, Bosh would have to miss at least one full year with some doctors already whispering rumors of recommended retirement from basketball for the 11 time All-Star.
It’s a unique situation, to say the least, that Riley and his front office find themselves in. Even after all that has happened in the course of free agency, they can do nothing but anxiously pace around until their dominos fall into place. However, the Heat’s front office is too intelligent and rest assured they’ve been planning. They’ve equally prepared themselves for their pawns to fall into place or out of place. They’ve planned for Bosh to retire or to continue playing, and for his money to accompany him or be on its way out. Their plans probably have plans, like an intelligent super computer that never stops planing until it has taken over the world, and I’m reminded that Riley in his smooth, slicked back white hair is the coolest 70+ year-old man alive on earth. Sorry, Stan Lee.
Even still, Riley, for all his wits, has to prove himself yet again in the dawn of a new age of basketball. He has to make the Heat relevant again with a roster of players who have rarely basked in it before. Erik Spoelstra will coach Dragic to take more command of the offense without Wade there to demand control of the ball. Whiteside will have to be kept happy with post touches for him to be his dominant, rising star-self. Winslow has growing expectations and the Heat will be banking on him at a young age to grow quicker than expected and become a leader of the team. Johnson and Richardson have to continue and grow from the dynamic play they flashed last season. As for Bosh, well we wish him the best of luck moving forward with his health.
This is what a transitional period looks like. It consists of several uncertain wildcards that teams are hoping grow into their potential. Pat Riley, however, grows through them, and so does his team. So the Heat will go about posting the faces of new stars at the American Airlines Arena and laying the foundation for the next generation to take over. This is the process of rebuilding: reinvent yourself to become future-proof for the game. This is what reimaging looks like. This is the new Miami Heat.