Few players in the NBA are as deeply rooted to their franchise as Dwyane Wade is to the Miami Heat. Since being selected with the fifth overall pick of the 2003 Draft, the future Hall of Famer has been a mainstay on South Beach. It's almost unfathomable to picture him in another uniform, which is rare to say of any star in this era. Yet it could actually happen this summer.
In a surprise twist, Wade is considering opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent, according to a report from the Miami Herald. If the Heat don't meet his contract demands, he could follow in the footsteps of a certain former teammate of his by taking his talents elsewhere.
"The Heat and Dwyane Wade have been discussing potential resolutions of his contract situation and there's a significant difference in what both parties believe he should be paid for the next three seasons, according to multiple sources," writes the Herald's Barry Jackson.
"Though Wade prefers to stay with the Heat, where he has spent his entire 12-year career, he is now open to considering other teams this summer if the Heat does not raise its offer, according to three sources with direct knowledge. Wade must decide by late June whether to opt out of a contract that will pay him $16.1 million next season."
Both sides remain at a standstill, with each digging in on their stance based on valid points.
From Miami's perspective, Wade is a 33-year old with a lot of mileage on a body that has been susceptible to injury, limiting him to an average of 58.5 games over the past four years. His lack of an outside shot may also make him a liability once his declining athleticism is no longer able to compensate for those limitations.
However, Wade is still a very effective player, coming off of a season in which he averaged a team-high 21.5 points and produced a 21.4 PER that ranked 24th in the league. He has also left a lot of money on the table over the years to allow the Heat to build around him, so he may believe that they owe it to him to continue paying him like a star as he ages. If Miami doesn't, another team most certainly will.
So what does this mean for the Celtics? We know Boston is eager to make a splash this summer, whether it be through trades or free agency. I'm not here to suggest that the Celtics will make a run at Wade if he becomes available, as we know that would be a long shot. Danny Ainge will certainly do his due diligence, as he will with just about any available option, but that doesn't mean we should start picturing Wade in Celtics green. However, he doesn't have to come here in order for his potential departure from South Beach to benefit the Celtics.
If Wade were to abandon Miami to sign a lucrative deal with another team with cap space then it would potentially take another suitor off the table for the other top free agents that the Celtics may be targeting. For example, if the Dallas Mavericks wanted to add their former NBA Finals rival, it may take them out of the sweepstakes for another star like LaMarcus Aldridge, since they probably can't afford both at market value. Adding Wade would also likely mean that Dallas would let Monta Ellis leave, adding another attractive option to the market.
Boston still might not be the favorite for any of the top stars on the market, but removing one of the potential destinations from the mix has to increase the odds. There are a limited number of realistic destinations for free agents expecting a lucrative contract, so adding another star like Wade to the market could take away one more seat in the game of musical chairs that is NBA free agency.
As for Miami, losing Wade would not necessarily make them major players in the free agent market. Even after removing his $16.1 million salary from their books, Miami still has nearly $65 million committed to next year's payroll under an expected $67.1 million salary cap. They would need Luol Deng and Goran Dragic to both opt out of their player options and follow Wade out the door in order to even approach the necessary cap space to compete with Boston for the top free agents.
Here's another completely hypothetical concept. If Wade were to bolt this summer, would Miami consider completely blowing things up by trading Chris Bosh? Now building around Bosh instead would be a perfectly reasonable option, but consider that he is 31 years old and owed about $98 million over the next four years. If Miami believes they won't be able to compete sans Wade, bottoming out for a year and jumping into the free agent bonanza of 2016 with virtually a clean slate could be tempting. If Miami were willing to consider that route, Boston has the assets to entice them.
Even if the Celtics were to strike out on every top free agent or trade option, Wade leaving the Heat would still benefit them by weakening an Eastern Conference rival. If Wade were to join a team out West, it makes Boston's path to the postseason that much easier.
It's entirely possible that negotiations will lead to a compromise that keeps Wade in Miami. They may seem miles apart now, but the Heat still have several weeks left to patch things up with the face of their franchise. Until a new contract is agreed upon, or Wade confirms he won't opt out of his contract, the rumors will linger of his potential departure.
This time of year gives fans the opportunity to dream big. Perhaps bringing Wade to Boston is an unreasonable pipe dream, but if he does leave Miami it could open up several reasonable scenarios that could work to our benefit.