Getting blocked by Tiago Splitter. Having the ball ripped out of his hands by Danny Green. Getting worked off the dribble by Boris Diaw. It’s safe to say Dwyane Wade hasn’t looked this bad since … well … probably his last post-game press conference.
After an embarrassing five-game exit to the Spurs, Wade has arrived at yet another crossroad in his career. He has some big-time contract decisions to make that will likely dictate how LeBron James, Chris Bosh and ultimately the rest of the league approaches free agency, but he’s also going to have to address what happened on the court.
His 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists in the series were a far-cry from his career-playoff numbers. It’s time Wade and the Heat realize that for them to remain competitive, Wade has to embrace a role with the second team — serving as a true yin to LeBron’s yang. Here’s why I think so.
1. LeBron is a creature of habit
“In the regular season I got frustrated a lot, but it was a lot because we have guys in and out of the lineup,” he said. “I’m all about chemistry and habits, and it affected our team. There were guys that didn’t know if they were playing, did know they were playing, and it affected our team a little bit.” Via the Sun Sentinel
I’m going to go ahead and assume LeBron is talking about Mr. Wade when he says “guys in and out of the lineup.” During their first three years together, Wade played in 85 percent of Miami’s regular season games. This past year, as part of his maintenance plan, Wade played in a sporadic 66 percent. By establishing Wade as this team’s Manu Ginobili, the Heat can simultaneously reduce his overall minutes and provide LeBron and Bosh the stability they need to start games consistently.
The Heatles were notoriously shaky in the first quarter this season, and it showed when they got trounced in every opening period of the Finals outside of LeBron in Game 5. They’re no spring chickens anymore, meaning they’ll have to drop the “find the gear no one else can reach in the last few minutes” act and start dominating in traditional fashion — start to finish.
The same way Bosh accepted his new title of Role Player, so too should Wade now that it’s his turn. And, quite frankly, Wade’s refined skill set just doesn’t complement LeBron at all anymore. He’s not explosive enough to follow him in on drives or turn the corner for lobs, and he has yet to prove himself a threat on catch-and-shoot threes. LeBron all but said that he can’t be expected to randomly cater to Wade’s very specific set of skills. It disrupts overall chemistry and detracts from Miami’s pace and space identity. Off the bench, he’ll get the ball where he wants it (in the post) with ample time to operate.
2. Remember the 2008 Olympics?
Yes, yes — it was a long time ago, but Wade was arguably Team USA’s best player throughout the tournament. He led the team in scoring at 16.0 per game while averaging just 19 minutes off the bench. He’s nowhere near that explosive anymore, but there’s got to be a way he can conjure up a different brand of that same efficiency in spurts again. Because he knew how few minutes he’d be afforded, he put everything into them, shooting passing lanes and wreaking havoc on the baseline like old times.
Get him to buy into that identity again, and he’s perfectly capable of scoring 15 points per game at a 60-percent clip while preserving his body for the long haul. If Michael Beasley can average 18.9 points per 36 minutes as an afterthought off the Heat bench, then surely Wade can reach double-figures as a focal point.
3. It’s Chris Bosh’s turn to shine
Bosh has proven his dedication by committing to doing all the things he was never good at. But the strides he’s made to expand his game can no longer be ignored. His usage rate this season was in the Ersan Ilyasova/Spencer Hawes-range. Talk about taking a backseat. That’s almost insulting when you consider Bosh’s relative talent level.
He was a 24 and 10 guy with Toronto, and Miami’s Finals aspirations should now shift toward relying on his offensive versatility and away from Wade’s ever-shrinking bag of tricks. Bosh expanded his game out to the three point line and proved capable of taking and making clutch shots. He would be among the league’s leading scorer’s as the No. 1 option on any other team, so why not unleash that by moving Wade to the bench?
4. His knee problems have him on the path to early retirement
Playing without a meniscus is one thing, but trying to be Dwyane Wade without one is a whole different challenge. Wade had one of his removed prior to his NBA career — a decision that would prove smart in the short term but disastrous later on. Wade can shave minutes each game and add years onto his career by changing his role. He’s only 32, but you’d think he was 42 with how outmatched he looked in those last few games. It was hard to watch, and I’m sure for Wade, hard to swallow.
That’s why he should take another step back and relieve some of the pressure. He can survey the game and have a better sense of what matchups work best for him. He can be active for every game and then work with Spo on how to gauge which games he’ll go deep into and which games he’ll sit out altogether.
You could argue that this season’s maintenance program worked for Wade, but it didn’t work for the team. There’s got a be a middle ground, where Wade is benefitting his squad while prolonging his career. This one is tricky because it will ultimately affect his career averages. This season’s in-and-out-of-the-lineup plan allowed him to stay above 20 points per game, but that number didn’t mean anything to the team when it was all said and done. Hopefully Wade values a winning legacy over one of statistical accolades.
5. He could set a precedent for superstar unselfishness
Speaking of legacy, if Wade helps the Heat win another championship by coming off the bench, he could go down as one of the best Sixth Man in NBA history. If successful, he’d be a shoo-in for the regular season award — adding yet another trophy to his mantle. He could follow in Ginobili’s footsteps in deeming the label “starter” an overrated title in sports.
At the very least, it would allow him the graceful exit many volume scorers aren’t afforded. Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal were starters to the bitter end, but neither did anything meaningful in the final years of their career. Wade could bridge the gap between the Grant Hill “useful-to-the-end” types and the “I’m-going-out-swinging” players.
Wade can avoid this fate by completing a laundry list of daunting career tasks. In a world where Wade learns to catch and shoot a corner three, adopts Ray Allen’s weight-shedding diet of immortality and focuses most of his energy on defense, I can see him continuing to thrive in a championship caliber starting lineup. But it’s probably too late for reinvention, so why not embrace reassignment?
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