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Wade-ing Game: Will Heat Star Return?

Sunday's loss to the Magic felt like a setback to the Heat's efforts to keep Dwyane Wade. Despite his return, the team was still overmatched in Orlando, which glided past a Heat squad that managed just 16 points in each of the final two quarters. Having missed several games with an injury, Wade was understandably rusty, but none of his teammates stepped up to help.

However discouraging that may have been for Wade, the Heat remain his most likely home next season. The reason I'm optimistic? It's because I'm so pessimistic about Wade's place in the NBA free agent market.

That market is so loaded with talent that Wade isn't likely to be the top priority for any of the team's he'd be willing to join -- except for the Heat.

The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls have been mentioned most frequently as possible destinations for Wade, but neither team has Wade at the top of its wish list.

The Knicks are holding out hope that they'll land the summer's biggest attraction, LeBron James. If they lose LeBron to New Jersey or Cleveland, they'll make a strong push for Wade, if he's still unsigned at that point. But by leaving for the Big Apple, Wade would join a team that's even further away from the playoffs than his current Heat team.

Yes, I know the Knicks may be able to afford both James and Wade, but however chummy those two megastars may be, they both enjoy being the number-one scoring option on their respective teams. Especially so considering that they score in similar ways. With LeBron or without him, the Knicks look like a rotten place for Wade to finish his career.

Chicago? Now there's a team in Wade's hometown that is a legitimate playoff team and would be a title contender if it landed a star in this summer's free agent market. Problem is, that star probably isn't Dwyane Wade.

The Bulls already have a Chicago native who can penetrate the lane and score seemingly at will. His name's Derrick Rose. What the Bulls need is a big man who can bring some scoring balance to their lineup, which is why Toronto Raptor star Chris Bosh figures to be the team's top priority. Signing Bosh would leave the Bulls unable to afford Wade.

The only other teams that have room under the salary cap to afford Wade are Washington, New Jersey, and the Los Angeles Clippers. Each of those teams is bad now and would be only a fringe playoff team if it added Wade, which puts him in the same situation he's in now.

Besides, Wade loves Miami -- the city if not always his underachieving teammates. I suspect he'll re-sign with the team early, then join the Heat in its efforts to sign another top-flight free agent. Unfortunately, there's no true center, no true point guard among the cast of elite free agents; but with Wade aboard, the Heat may be able to convince Bosh to move out of frigid Canada.

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Thomas Francis

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