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How the relationship between Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat fell apart

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Most people expected Wade to spend his entire career in Miami, but over the years that relationship deteriorated to a point of no return.

Atlanta Hawks v Miami Heat Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Dwyane Wade is about to find out what the visitor's locker room of the AmericanAirlines Arena looks like. On Thursday, the Heat will host the Bulls in what will be Wade's return to Miami after leaving in free agency.

At the time, his decision was shocking. Wade was supposed to be a Heat lifer. He was drafted by Miami in 2003 and was expected to retire there as the most representative player in franchise history. Yet by 2016, his departure had been years in the making.

2010 - Wade leaves money on the table so the Heat can add depth around the Big Three

It was impossible to imagine Wade leaving Miami when the Heat were winning titles. The Big Three he was a part of, along with Chris Bosh and LeBron James, was a force in the league. The trio made four straight finals trips and won two championships. But the sacrifices that Wade would make — and would come to resent — started with the formation of that team.

All three stars took a pay cut in order for Miami to retain Udonis Haslem, but Wade was the one who left the most money on the table. While the others gave up $15 million over the duration of their contracts, Wade gave up $17 million. It's a small amount in the bigger scheme of things, but it set a precedent. Miami was deeper early on in the Big Three era because Wade proved selfless, and that would become expected of him.

2014 - Wade opts out and takes another discount

The Heat's star trio all structured their contract the same way, so that they could opt out after four seasons. James opted out first. Then, in what was reportedly an effort to sway James to stay by giving Pat Riley more flexibility to rebuild the roster, Wade and Bosh did the same. Things obviously didn't work as they were hoping, as James returned to the Cavaliers.

Unlike Bosh, who received a five-year maximum extension, Wade had to settle for less than he would have gotten if he had just opted in. He signed a two-year, $31 million deal with a player option for the second season after leaving $42 million in guaranteed money on the table.

"I've been here through the good times and the hard times," Wade said at the time, according to ESPN. "I have confidence in the Miami Heat organization and the team they are building."

The Heat reloaded, adding Luol Deng, but were not a contender anymore. The sacrifice was harder to justify this time.

2015 - The Heat play hardball with Wade's contract

After an entire career of not being the highest-paid player on his team, Wade entered free agency once again in 2015. That was bad news for the Heat, which were hoping he would opt in, giving the front office more flexibility.

This time, however, Wade wanted to cash in and get compensated for his past sacrifices. He wanted a big, multi-year deal. The Heat balked at that. The two parties were "significantly" apart during the negotiations. Wade reportedly contemplated leaving the Heat but, in the end, both sides compromised.

"It's no secret that my goal was to sign a longer-term deal this summer," Wade told the AP, according to "That's what I was focused on. Once I realized that probably wasn't the best thing for me right now, where everything is financially with the NBA and a lot of things coming up that we don't even know about yet, a one-year deal isn't a bad thing."

Wade received a one-year, $20 million contract that represented an upgrade over what he would have been paid had he opted in, but was clearly not the deal he was after.

2016 - Wade refuses to budge and finally leaves the Heat

The two parties sat down to negotiate once again a year later, under more complex circumstances. Wade seemed to have more leverage this time, after having a terrific season and almost leading the team to the conference finals. Yet the Heat needed to re-sign Hassan Whiteside, wanted to add Kevin Durant, and were skeptical about Chris Bosh's chances of ever playing again after his battles with blood clots.

Wade refused to budge this time. He didn't recruit Durant, signaling that he was not willing to take less money to help the Heat add pieces. Yet Riley made it clear that he was not a priority. He reportedly never called Wade throughout the entire free agency process. The Heat re-signed Whiteside as soon as they could but Wade reportedly got low-balled. After not getting the offer he wanted, he started flirting with other teams. Ultimately, he decided to join the Bulls on a two-year, $47 million contract.

“As someone who understands the business, and have wants and needs, I felt this was the best decision for myself at this time,” Wade explained, according to

It was the end of a 13-year relationship that eroded over time. Wade clearly believed the Heat would repay him for his sacrifices eventually, like most franchises do. Yet Miami's Riley had other plans. He simply refused to overcommit to an aging star over sentimental reasons and drove Wade away.

Wade thought the Heat were his team, but it's actually Riley's. Knowing that, one of the NBA's most unexpected breakups looks inevitable in hindsight.