Report: Heat and Dwyane Wade far apart in contract negotiations, which could lead to his departure

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Over the course of a Hall of Fame career, Dwyane Wade has become synonymous with the Miami Heat. He’s made 11 All-Star teams and won three titles with the franchise, winning Finals MVP in 2006. And in doing all of this for the team that drafted him, he’s become one of only a small handful of superstars of his generation who have been tied to only one franchise their entire career. That short list includes Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks, Tim Duncan and the Spurs, and…well…that’s basically it.

Now, there are rumblings that the 12-year relationship between Wade and the Heat could come to an end if they can’t agree on a new contract this summer.

From Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

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.

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.

You can see both sides in this dispute. Wade’s health has been a question mark for several years. He’s generally been fantastic when he’s played, even with his knee problems, but he missed 20 games this season and 28 in 2013-14. The Heat, understandably, don’t want to pay him like a max-level superstar at age 33 if they can’t count on him to play close to a full season — in other words, they don’t want to find themselves in a situation like the Lakers have with Kobe Bryant, where his enormous contract is essentially paying him for what he’s done in the past, far beyond him being worth that kind of money today.

On the other side, Wade has been the face of the franchise for 12 years. Even when he agreed to take a backseat to LeBron James during the Big Three era, he was always the more popular player locally. He’s been a fixture in the community in Miami for his entire NBA career. He’s an icon there. And there’s an element of feeling like he’s sacrificed enough for the good of the team over his career. Wade has taken a pay cut on two consecutive contracts: first in 2010, in order to create the cap space to bring in James and Chris Bosh, and again last summer after James left to go back to Cleveland. The Heat maxed out Bosh to prevent him from leaving for Houston in free agency, and Wade signed a two-year, $31 million contract with a player option for 2015-16.

This summer, the Heat want to retain the same flexibility. Goran Dragic is due for a new contract, and he’s made it clear that he wants nothing less than the five-year, $100 million max deal the Heat can offer him. Considering Miami gave up two first-round picks to land him at the trade deadline, they have a high level of motivation to keep him. Going forward, Hassan Whiteside has one year left on his contract before he’s due for a massive pay raise. If he keeps up the level of production he had this season after the Heat picked him up off the scrap heap, there’s no doubt he’s going to get an eight-figure annual salary.

So that leaves Wade, understandably wanting respect from the organization he’s given so much to, but in a tricky place in his career. If he wants an upgrade over the $16.1 million player option he has next season, he might have trouble getting it on the open market. Even with the salary cap set to spike next year when the league’s new TV deal kicks in, it’s hard to see too many teams lining up to give a 33-year-old with a long injury history and declining athleticism max or near-max money. Wade, in his current state, is worth more to the Heat than he is to any other team.

It’s impossible to imagine Wade playing for a team besides the Heat — but then again, it was tough to picture Paul Pierce playing for a team besides the Celtics until he was traded to Brooklyn in 2013. Wade wants to stay in Miami and the Heat want to keep him. It’s just a matter of figuring out a number that both sides can feel good about. That could be tougher than they think.