As media days finally opened up for teams following the passing of the July 7 moratorium, signings could become finalized, and speculation could end. Teams finally could acknowledge signings made up to two weeks prior, and team officials, one by one, made their way out of hiding to talk about deals and movement, to face the media and rationalize and flash some deals that were the talk of the NBA world.
For the most part, the press conferences were of joy and optimism, of talks of patience or promises of title contention. But one such press conference felt different, and felt more like a funeral than of a rallying point for the franchise.
After being the subject of much of the offseason talk, Miami boss Pat Riley faced the music over the weekend, addressing national and local media at a press conference on the flurry of signings the Heat had brought together at the end of the moratorium. Riley talked of each of the number of new faces the Heat will see suit up in 2017, but yet a familiar one was missing. All the reporters at the conference wanted to hear was about the guy who wasn’t there, rather than who was.
Riley has long been respected around the league as a Zen master on the level of Phil Jackson. Very rarely does the wool fall over Riley’s eyes, and rarely is he not seen as the smartest in the room. Riley has stood front and center of the building at not just one, but three different franchises in his time spent on the sideline and the front office. Injuries and bad luck have hit Riley from time to time, but this time, it was blind foresight that overcame the bright NBA mind.
Riley mostly deflected the Wade conversation to begin his first press conference, but as the questions mounted, Riley finally delivered the sound-bite everyone was waiting on, saying that he was “floored” by Wade’s decision, and that it was one that would carry with him. There was no sugar-coating of the issue, no optimism, just pure emotion.
“We’ve had a tough summer,” Riley said. And with that, the already sad ending of Wade’s time in Miami got more final.
Pat Riley regrets not doing more to keep Dwyane Wade in a Heat uniform. pic.twitter.com/3PduLow3J3
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 18, 2016
But how did it get here?
Wade, since his first day of being drafted, has been the man in Miami. When Shaquille O’Neal was brought in, big shadows were cast in Wade’s direction. But the prodigal son cast them out while carrying Miami to their first world title. Two years later, Shaq was out of town, leaving Wade the only guy. But from there, the relationship between Wade and the front office, manned by Riley, began to teeter.
Wade sought superstar money, but as Riley pushed to align a team, Riley pulled back on Wade’s paycheck. As Riley and Wade worked to bring King James and Chris Bosh to South Beach, Riley pleaded with Wade to take less money to chase glory.
And Wade complied. But as the Heat dynasty grew, so did the wishing of Wade, wanting to be rewarded for his sacrifice to Miami, and for his loyalty to the organization. This was put to the test as LeBron James bolted back to Cleveland, leaving just Wade and Bosh.
Miami Heat President Pat Riley feels ‘great regret’ about Dwyane Wade’s departure.https://t.co/ibFNAQKVnq
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) July 18, 2016
Wade received a bigger share of the pie, but still tensions flared between Wade and Riley. As the first post-James season rolled on for the Heat, Chris Bosh suffered through injury, leaving for the season due to blood clotting, and putting a burden on Wade. The Heat would miss the playoffs.
This season showed more promise, with more veterans and support around Bosh and Wade. But again, Bosh went on the shelf, as Wade carried the Heat into the playoffs, and to the second round. As the offseason approached, Wade saw his chance to finally be compensated. With Bosh’s future in doubt, and with veterans looking for homes elsewhere, Wade was THE guy, and looked to finally be back to being the focus.
But Riley had other plans. The Heat’s first offer to Wade was an insulting $10 million per season contract. And with that, the fuse was lit. Years of tension and disinterest in the franchise centerpiece by Riley finally ignited. In one fell swoop, Wade opened to other offers.
— Jalen Rose (@JalenRose) July 19, 2016
But even as the reports came of Wade’s camp meeting with other teams, the expectation never changed that Wade would return to Miami. As days dragged on, however, the narrative started to change.
Behind the scenes. Wade traveled to Miami. Team owner Micky Arison greeted him as he exited the plane. Noticeable absent: Riley. And, as Wade’s hometown team offered the big two-year, $47 million contract, he again gave Miami the chance.
Riley’s rebuke? $40 million. And as it was, a day late and a dollar short. Wade made the decision to return to Chicago, his hometown, and the rest is history. Miami lost its veteran talisman Wade, and they lost out in the Durant sweepstakes.
And the press conference left the feeling of defeat and what-ifs. In a summer of surprises, the biggest of all left many feeling confused and wondering just how bad behind the scenes could it have gotten for the face of a franchise to walk out? An organization that prides itself on “lifers” apparently let the heart of the organization leave without so much as a fighting chance.
Riley said that he would do anything to fix what happened with Wade. But unlike Riley’s stops in the past, there’s not a fix to this.
— Jalen Rose (@JalenRose) July 19, 2016