So, the future of the Miami Heat franchise has come to this: a staring contest between Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade.
Wade, as we all know, can opt out of his contract at the end of next season and become a free agent. It's already called the "Summer of 2010," and should be one of the biggest free agent summers in NBA history, with names like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire and several other big name players all available to switch teams.
Wade doesn't want to re-sign with the Heat until Riley makes a move to improve the team and make them title contenders.
Riley doesn't want to make any major roster moves until he has a commitment from Wade beyond next season.
So you see, we have a dilemma here, and the question is: who will blink first? Riley or Wade?
I can understand Wade's frustration, or rather, his urge for the Heat to get better now. After all, several Eastern Conference teams have already improved themselves, on paper at least, through offseason moves. Eastern Conference champion Orlando added perennial all-star wingman Vince Carter. Cleveland, who had the best record in the regular season, added Wade's former partner in crime, Shaq. 2008 NBA champion Boston added Rasheed Wallace. Detroit added both Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva.
But at the same time, you can also understand Riley not wanting to make a major move until he knows Wade is committed to Miami.
So where do the Heat go from here?
Here are a few options the Heat have:
1. Don't make any major moves this offseason. If Riley decides to stand pat (pardon the pun), then the team will have plenty of cap space next season to re-sign Wade to the maximum, as well as another big-name player (LeBron, Carlos Boozer, Bosh, etc.) AND a substantial role player (Steve Nash?) so that the Heat will definitely contend in 2010-11 and beyond.
2. Try and sign one of the remaining solid free agents. David Lee of the Knicks is a restricted free agent, meaning the Knicks can match any offer another team makes for him. But if the Heat could sign him, they would add a guaranteed double-double every night, as Lee averaged 16 points and nearly 12 rebounds this past season. Another free agent option this season would be former Heat player Lamar Odom. Odom was traded by Miami to LA in the Shaq deal a few years back. He's free this summer, and reportedly, he and the Lakers are "far apart" in negotiations. Either player would give the Heat some support in the post, and allow Michael Beasley to return to his natural small forward position. Imagine a lineup of Jermaine O'Neal, Odom or Lee, Beasley, Wade and Mario Chalmers. I think that might have the Heat contending, especially if Beasley makes the leap many expect of him in his second year.
The downside of either of these moves is that it limits what the team can do next offseason.
3. The third option would be for the team to trade away a few parts (likely including Beasley) for a big-name with one year left on his contract (Boozer or Bosh, in all likelihood). That would allow the Heat to re-sign Wade and the player they traded for to maximum contracts in 2010, and still allow them to pick up another role player that offseason.
The downside to this is that the Heat would be giving up on Beasley, and I'm not sure how I feel about dumping him already, as he showed signs of brilliance at times during the season, especially towards the end of the year.
Now that the options are laid out, what do the two parties do? We know this, Wade would like to stay in Miami, after all, it is Miami, an ideal city for athletes. However, keep in mind the Chicago Bulls just cleared some cap space by letting Gordon bolt for Detroit. I'm sure the Bulls would love to try to bring in the hometown kid in 2010, and I'm sure Wade wouldn't mind playing for the team he grew up watching.
The Heat need to do whatever they can to keep Wade in town, because he is the face of the franchise (and the team's all-time leading scorer). Riley needs to sit down with Wade and ask him what pieces Wade wants around him that would make the ideal combination for a title run.
Personally, I think the best course of action is to make minor roster changes, and hope the young team matures enough to advance further into the playoffs this season. By doing so, the team knows what it has in Beasley and Chalmers, and then will also be able to sign Wade, (fingers crossed for Lebron but realistically) Boozer or Bosh and another player. That way they keep the young nucleus and fortify it with big names in 2010. That would make sure the Heat contends for titles for years to come, and I think Wade would prefer that to a quick-fix this season.
But remember, the key to all of this is that the Heat's young players improve this season so that the Heat don't fall off the map in the Eastern Conference, because if that happens, then Wade might be on his way out, and the franchise is back to where they were when they won 15 games in 2007, and we can't have that happen.
With that being said, Riley needs to blink, and get the ball rolling with improving this team, by at least sitting down with Wade and discussing the team's future possibilities and plans. At the same time, Wade needs to blink, and come to an agreement, a verbal one at the very least, so the two can work together, as they should, to make the Heat champions of the basketball world again.