Dwyane Wade remembers the hard years leading up to the Big Three era and he never wants to revisit a life of mediocre seasons and first-round playoff exits.
Even if that means giving up a huge chunk of money.
Wade had little reservation about sacrificing roughly $10 million when he terminated his old contract with the Heat last month and later signed a new two-year deal worth around $32 million.
If that is what it took to get a top-tier free agent such as Luol Deng and stay viable with LeBron James gone, Wade was ready to do it.
“You just do what you feel is right,” he said Friday at his fourth annual fantasy camp. “I’m not saying I want to give all my money away, but I understand the position that we’re in because of the collective-bargaining agreement. If you want the team that you want and if you want success, you have to give a little.
“I’m one of the faces of this organization and I take the responsibility of trying to put us in the right position as much as I can. Hopefully if other guys see fit and follow, that just makes us better and gives us a better chance to succeed.”
Wade, appearing at the Westin Diplomat for his camp, a four-day event full of basketball and parties, hadn’t spoken publicly about the Heat since they lost to San Antonio in the NBA Finals in June.
Plenty has transpired since then, most notably James’ departure for Cleveland and the disbanding one of the most impressive and compelling teams in league history.
Wade said he harbored no bitterness about James’ move — “We’re friends like we’ve been for 11 years,” he said — and joked about the chances of James dropping in on the camp as a guest coach as he did last year.
“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he won’t be here,” Wade said with a smirk. “Just gonna take a wild guess.”
Wade was with James in Las Vegas the week leading up to his move, although Wade said he did not lobby James to stay and that they did not speak much about the upcoming decision. They had dinner at least once, Wade visited James’ basketball camp and they flew back to Miami together the night before James made his announcement.
Through all of that, James did not convey his plans to Wade until shortly before his first-person essay was published in Sports Illustrated on July 11. The interviews for the essay were done the day before, but James did not mention it during their four-hour flight home.
“I probably knew then, without him telling me,” Wade said. “You could tell where someone’s heart is and what they’re thinking. I kind of knew at that moment. As his friend, I’m just supportive of my friend doing what makes them happy.
“I went to sleep knowing. He called me the next day. But I knew then. Obviously he still had to say the final yea or nay, but I could tell.”
With that behind him, Wade is eager to press forward with teammates he believes are good enough to help Miami compete in the newly wide open Eastern Conference. Inspired by Ray Allen, he spent 30 days on the Paleo diet and has been incorporating healthier food into his routine. For someone who has always resisted fish and vegetables, adding zucchini, asparagus, sea bass and halibut to his diet has been a challenge.
Wade normally likes to use the summer break to “be lazy, travel the world and eat,” but is intent on losing weight so he can report to training camp in prime shape. Last year, at 32, he averaged 19 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds and was listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds.
He declined to give specifics on his weight loss, but said he already is lighter than he was at the start of last season and plans to slim down further over the next two months.
“With what he’s doing this summer with his body and his conditioning, there’s a possibility Dwyane can turn back into who he was before he ceded a good part of his game to LeBron,” team president Pat Riley said this week.
That is not necessarily how Wade would phrase his goal, and he realizes it will be difficult to return to the exact form that made him a perennial MVP candidate prior to James’ arrival. Instead, he hopes to build off last season’s career-high 54.5 percent shooting and preserve his knees as much as possible.
He will be fueled in part by those who doubt he can still be elite and those who question whether the Heat can survive post-James. Given the new team Riley has put together, Wade said he likes his chances of proving them wrong.
“He did his job of recovering as good as you can, and it’s our job as players to come back next year and get the continuity that we need early,” Wade said. “It’s a very good Eastern Conference, and we’re right in there when you look at the talent. We’ve got a little work to do, but I’m confident in the guys we have.”