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Dwyane Wade’s return fits Heat from basketball, sentimental standpoints

Riley was right to avoid giving Wade a big contract in 2016.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of Dwyane Wade’s return to the Miami Heat, Stephen A. Smith said that “he never should’ve left.”

But from a basketball perspective, maybe it’s for the best that Wade left. Walk with me on this argument.

Going into the summer of 2016, the Heat found themselves one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals. But Chris Bosh had just suffered his second round of blood clots, and Wade and Hassan Whiteside were impending free agents. Riley said that re-signing Whiteside was his No. 1 priority. Although the Heat offered Wade a two-year, $41.5 million deal — all of the Heat’s remaining cap space after signing Whiteside — Riley could’ve made re-signing Wade his top priority. He didn’t. Riley could’ve offered Wade a third year in his contract after signing Whiteside, but didn’t.

Wade texted reporter Ethan Skolnick that the Heat didn’t fight to keep him. Dan LeBatard agreed, saying that Riley could’ve kept Wade if he really wanted. And why didn’t Riley want Wade at that high price tag? Because he was afraid of what exactly happened — that the 2006 NBA Finals MVP would continue to decline. The Heat wouldn’t be good enough to contend with the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, and Wade’s high salary would prevent them from finding and keeping new franchise cornerstones.

Riley saw what the Los Angeles Lakers did with Kobe Bryant — keeping him in a Lakers jersey his whole career, sure, but preventing them from building a new team. Barring a late-season tear, the Lakers will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year. Prior to their current playoff drought, the Lakers had missed the playoffs five times in total. Riley saw what he did in 2005 — when he made a monumental mistake and gave a rapidly declining Shaquille O’Neal a five-year, $100 million contract that hurt Miami’s ability to make the most of Wade’s prime years.

Wade had already showed signs of his decline — even when he showed flashes of brilliance, like vanquishing the Charlotte Hornets in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. After shooting close to 50 percent from the field for several years, Wade was down to 45.6 percent in 2015-16. His blocking ability, a skill he developed thanks to his athleticism and timing, diminished.

One-and-a-half years after the relationship between Wade and Riley was “in tatters” according to LeBatard, the two are back together. And it fits from both a basketball and a sentimental, nostalgic standpoint. Wade will play 25-30 minutes per game, helping Miami’s second unit as he did last night. His scoring and passing ability will bail the Heat out in clutch situations. He’ll mentor Josh Richardson, a player some within the Heat organization think can become a two-way star. Wade is the best player in franchise history, but he knows now — in a way that he might not have had the Heat given him a gargantuan contract in 2016 — that Richardson and Bam Adebayo are the future cornerstones of this franchise.

Should Wade have left? Maybe it was best for both sides — for Wade to experience his tumultuous stops in Chicago and Cleveland to appreciate his time in Miami, for the Heat to move on from tying up their salary cap space in a declining Wade and an inactive Bosh — to have a brief parting. But it feels good to now have Wade back in a Heat uniform, just as it felt good to have Alonzo Mourning end his career in Miami.