NBA

With Dwyane Wade gone, Miami prepares for the future

Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade had done this dance before. Last summer, the two engaged in a similar game of chicken with the former trying to balance the past with the present in South Beach and the latter looking to be paid handsomely over the final years of his career. The conclusion of that negotiation — a one-year, $20 million deal — set the stage for another round of difficult discussions in 2016.

While most expected Riley and Wade to posture publicly via the media, the presumptive outcome was that the 34-year old would ultimately agree to return to Miami on a lesser deal that in all likelihood would allow him to finish his career in a Heat uniform. In the stroke of fewer than 140 characters, though, Miami’s future changed at 9:20pm ET on Wednesday night when free agency’s latest “Woj Bomb” revealed that Wade was close to committing to his hometown Chicago Bulls. Four minutes later, the deal was done.

It seems that two years of tense negotiations wore on the Riley-Wade relationship and after a history of taking lesser money in order to facilitate greater team success, Wade reportedly felt that the 71-year old Heat executive didn’t sufficiently value his contributions to the franchise. It’s hard to imagine that Riley did not appreciate Wade’s tenure with Miami, but it’s much easier to understand his decision not to speak with Wade directly (and other various signs) as a business decision designed to transform the roster and build a new way forward.

Despite delivering favorable box score statistics in the playoffs, Wade has struggled since the departure of LeBron James in 2014, going from a career-high 58.8 percent true shooting percentage in James’ final season with the Heat to a career low 51.7 percent last year. He is a poor outside shooter, his ability to get to the basket has declined as he’s aged, and it’s highly unlikely that his production on the court will match the dollar value of his deal over the next few seasons.

For Riley and Miami, Wade’s departure represents a changing of the guard as the franchise transitions toward an investment in a new regime. The organization prioritized maxing out 27-year old Hassan Whiteside and have reached out to Tyler Johnson regarding the 24-year old’s offer from the Brooklyn Nets. Most importantly, Wade’s departure opens up room for the Heat’s best two-way prospect, Justise Winslow to develop.

The 20-year old is well regarded for his individual defensive prowess where his strength and 6-10 wingspan make him a capable multi-position defender. Still, Winslow is a work in progress on the offensive end of the floor. As a rookie, he averaged just 8.1 points per 36 minutes and finished the season with a rather putrid 48.9 percent true shooting percentage. Perhaps his shooting struggles were something that we should have seen coming. Despite shooting 41.8 percent from behind the three-point arc at Duke, Winslow attempted just 110 threes during his lone season in Durham and his 64.1 percent free throw percentage should have been a huge red flag.

While Winslow has shown promise in transition and as a slasher in the half court, his offensive upside will depend on his ability to develop into a creator both for himself and for his teammates. With Wade using 31.6 percent of the team’s possessions last season, there were few chances for the rookie to work with the ball in his hands. Now, there will be more opportunities for the 20-year old to expand his game. Winslow’s best opportunities to be successful in a league seemingly determined to downsize will likely come at the power forward spot, the same position he succeeded from at Duke. Against slightly larger opponents, he should be more comfortable attacking off the dribble and crashing to the basket.

Certainly Winslow will not immediately become an offensive focal point for the Heat. Goran Dragic is still on the roster, Chris Bosh will potentially return to the floor, and Whiteside figures to get his share of touches. Nonetheless, head coach Eric Spoelstra would be wise to invest portions of his offensive game plan in his best future talent to help the youngster begin to improve his game in order to lead the franchise sooner rather than later. Wade’s departure is the perfect opportunity to usher in a new era by doing exactly that.