MIAMI • Miami Heat president Pat Riley has admitted that the departure of veteran Dwyane Wade has "floored" him and he regrets not taking a more active role in talks to retain the star.
With the shock departure of the franchise cornerstone to Chicago, Miami's fabled "Big Three" of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh has been reduced to one, with serious doubts over whether the latter will ever play professionally again.
"What happened with Dwyane floored me," Riley told reporters at the National Basketball Association team's AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday. "I'm not trying to fall on the sword for anybody. I have great regret that I didn't immerse myself in the middle of it.
"My responsibility was to make it happen. Dwyane left and the buck really stops here."
My responsibility was to make it happen. Dwyane left and the buck really stops here.
PAT RILEY, Miami Heat president, who left owner Mike Arison to handle the contract negotiations with Wade.
For the second time in three years, he has seen the two best players in franchise history leave.
Back in the aftermath of the 2014 Finals dismantling at the hands of San Antonio, Riley was blindsided by James' decision, just as he is reportedly surprised by Wade's.
However, according to the Miami Herald, 13 years of service that saw Wade become the team's record holder for games played, points, field goals, free throws, assists and steals did not merit a call during the recruitment process.
Instead, Riley left it to owner Mickey Arison, who was on one of his cruise ships shortly after the meeting with Wade.
All Riley could muster was a text message - SADDDDDDD!!!! SO saddddddd! - while speaking to the Herald's Dan LeBatard.
It was Wade who agreed to lighten his wallet to bring James to Miami in the first place, who did more than anyone to broker the deal with his friend. He was the lowest-paid member of that "Big Three".
When James high-tailed back to Cleveland, Wade again gave ground to accommodate the retention of Bosh and the recruitment necessary to keep Miami competitive.
Three-time NBA champion Wade was asked to do it again, all while Miami fixed to cast him aside in their damaging pursuit of Kevin Durant.
What he got was an insulting offer of US$10 million (S$13.5 million) for the 2016-17 season, a 50 per cent pay cut, during a week when players in his position scored unfathomably huge deals. Dirk Nowitzki, three years older than Wade, nabbed two years and US$40 million to finish out his career where he belonged, in Dallas.
After Durant's rejection, Miami upped their offer to US$40 million - leaving little difference between it and the US$47 million, two-year salary he will receive in Chicago (when Florida tax benefits are factored) but, by this point, it was too late. The damage had been done.
Wade, seemingly grossly offended, was going back to his home state - just like James.
In 855 regular-season games with the Heat, Wade averaged 23.7 points and shot 48.8 per cent. He averaged 19 points in 74 games last season after missing a combined 48 contests owing to various injuries the previous two seasons.
His move may end up benefiting Miami on the court as they gear up for another run at a stacked free agent class in 2017 containing Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Durant and perhaps Blake Griffin. Riley gets another shot at those big names he covets so dearly.
However, like Kobe Bryant, Wade, who admitted he was "still numb" at leaving, was worth far more to the Miami franchise than wins and losses on the court.
For an entire generation of fans, who grew up watching him and that fabled Euro-step and step-back angled jump shot, Wade was the Miami Heat.
Without #3 in Miami-Wade County, the Heat and a crestfallen fan base have lost their identity, leaving a void truly impossible to fill.
As a team that have often labelled themselves a "family," that placed Wade front and centre of a defiant #HeatLifer marketing campaign after James left, it is a blow to the team's reputation and their chances of recruiting future big-name free agents.
The departure of their linchpin was part of a "tough summer" for the club, Riley said.
He said the Heat still are not sure when veteran centre Bosh might return to action after missing portions of the last two seasons due to recurrence of blood-clotting issues.
"It's always fluid and it always has been," Riley said of the 11-time All-Star's health. "I know he wants to play and we would be open to that."
Bosh averaged 19.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 53 games last season, but did not play after Feb 9 because of blood clots in his calf. He had missed the second half of the 2014-15 campaign with blood clots, one of which migrated to his lungs.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN