In a flash, Dwyane Wade is gone.
This is not how it was supposed to end, the Miami Heat and their ultimate star falling apart over money.
This is not what free agency was really supposed to mean, that Wade actually was free to choose where he wants to play next season and for how much.
The three-time NBA champion is headed for Chicago, though, leaving his 13-year professional home for the hometown of his less famous youth.
Whether or not the offers from the Heat and the Bulls were similar will come out, but the bottom line is that Chicago was willing to move heaven and earth to add Wade to its roster, while Pat Riley wasn't willing to move Wade where he wanted most to be, which is all the way to the top of the Heat's priority list.
Respect, and tons of it, is due Wade, even now, at this sorest of points. He won a championship at Miami with a heroic NBA Finals MVP performance that matched anything the Big Three ever did as a group. He mentored young Heat players on the culture of sacrifice and discipline that kept Miami relevant, for the most part, since the team drafted Wade out of Marquette in 2003. He set the bar high, and didn't drop it when LeBron James made his own exit to Cleveland a few years back.
Now there's no more to write about Wade and the Heat, unless of course he comes back in a Bulls uniform to knock Miami out of the playoffs some day. Did LeBron tell Dwyane how good that would feel during their European vacation together? Maybe not, but he likely emphasized how important it is for NBA stars to determine their own destinies rather than bowing always to the needs of management.
Now it's up to Riley to manage what's left, which isn't nearly enough to contend against the Cavaliers and other top teams in the East. That $20 million he wanted to pay Wade for next season won't spend as well on anybody else. It's time to start over with Hassan Whiteside, who after one strong season was rewarded by Riley with a $98 million windfall and a four-year promise.
It's time for Riley, who consistently kicked the Wade problem down the road, to kick himself. He was bullheaded about making Wade an offer until Kevin Durant was wooed by the Heat, and now they're both playing elsewhere, making other teams stronger, making Miami appear irrelevant.
Finally, Riley, the godfather of free-agent negotiations, made Dwyane an offer he had the strength to refuse. And that, incredible as it seems to a generation of Heat fans, is that.
Whatever roster the Bulls build around Wade next season probably won't do much more than Miami does without him. It will be a scramble both places, with the Bulls hustling to clear cap space and Riley hunting for any and all available vets who haven't already been snapped up since the free agency period began on July 1.
Could it get worse for the Heat? Sure, Chris Bosh could be unable to contribute much, if anything, next season. As it is, Udonis Haslem is the last piece of Riley's forever family, and even he is unsigned. Pat could overpay Udonis with some of the money that would have gone to Wade, but it's too little too late to reclaim that feeling of kinship and loyalty now.
The Miami Heat team we knew and trusted is no more. The exit door has flown open on that supposedly tight locker room. Dwyane is gone, because he wasn't bluffing like I wanted so much to believe.
He was hurting.
— Palm Beach Post