Dwyane Wade is going to the Hall of Fame. Long before LeBron James took his talents to South Beach, Wade had won a title with the Miami Heat, virtually by himself. He is a multiple NBA champion, perennial All-Star and Olympic gold medalist. He even won a scoring title.
Wade is an icon in Miami.
And that is a problem for the Heat.
Because over the last couple of years, it has become evident that Wade is no longer a superstar. And he may want to still be paid like one.
Yes, the Heat now belong to LeBron James, who takes most of the criticism when things go wrong. And yes, there are other members of the Heat not pulling their weight in the NBA Finals. But that doesn’t mean Wade should get a pass.
Wade is to blame as much as anyone for the Heat facing a must-win situation Thursday night in Miami. Three games into the NBA Finals, he has yet to be spectacular, other than a play here or a shot there. In Tuesday’s loss, he was thoroughly outplayed by Danny Green.
And at times where the Heat have needed him the most – when James is off the floor – Wade has often been invisible.
In Game 1, Wade scored four points while James sat for five minutes in the first half. But when James cramped up and missed the final 7 1/2 minutes, Wade scored just two points on 1-of-4 shooting.
In Game 2, James sat for two stretches totaling 5:55 in the first half as Wade went without a basket, making two free throws and committing two turnovers. He missed his only shot as James rested for 2:38 in the second half.
In Game 3, Wade sank two free throws but missed a shot and committed a turnover in the first 2:37 of the second quarter, forcing Erik Spoelstra to rush James back. Wade’s best stretch without James may have come in the third period, when he had a bucket and two free throws in just under four minutes.
And it’s not just Wade’s inability to take over when James is sitting. He has 12 turnovers and eight assists in the series. There have been a handful of times where he jogs back on defense, forcing Miami into cross matches while covering for him.
It’s not his health, either. Before the Finals began, Wade said his knees were feeling much better than they did a year ago, when he required treatment and a draining simply to suit up and disappeared at times during the postseason.
Despite his improved health, Wade’s disintegration as a superstar has never been evident more in the burden it places on James, who is practically carrying the Heat by himself against the Spurs.
We could be just days away from the end of the “Big Three” era. James, Wade and Bosh all have the ability to opt out of their contracts and become free agents. They could do it to rework their deals for more years at less money and remain together.
Should James take less money? Since he arrived in Miami, the Heat have not missed the NBA Finals while James has run away from the rest of the league as its best player. And he still doesn’t turn 30 until December.
Should Bosh take less money? Folks like to talk about how Wade subjugated his game for James, but none of the three sacrificed more than Bosh, who willingly became a third option and entirely remade his style of play. And
he just turned 30.
That leaves Wade, who is an old 32 and has seen the reckless style, deep postseason runs and international play of his youth catch up to him. Despite a conscious, significant reduction in minutes, he has missed 58 games over the last three seasons.
Realistically, Wade should take less money. Before the Finals, however, he didn’t sound like he was on board with that plan.
“I will never feel like I have to take less (money) after this, or have to do this,” Wade told ESPN. “It’s not my job. It’s the job of others around to figure out how to make it work. If I want to be a part of that, then I’ll be a part of that. But if I don’t, I won’t. It’s simple as that. I don’t feel that pressure at all.”
Wade averaged below 20 points and five free throws, his lowest numbers since his rookie season. In a league where everyone shoots 3-pointers, he made nine, or about half as many as Roger Mason Jr. And while his playoff numbers are up from a year ago thanks to his improved health, they remain considerably below his career postseason stats.
Wade believes he can play at his current level for several years. But what level is that, exactly? It’s not an All-NBA level; he got all of one vote this season. If not for his long-standing popularity among fans and residence in the weaker Eastern Conference, it may not be an All-Star level, either.
We all chided Lance Stephenson for his immature antics in the postseason, but ask yourself this: A year from now, would you rather have Wade or Stephenson? Wade or DeMar DeRozan? Wade or Bradley Beal?
We have been down this road with Wade before, and he has silenced the doubters. And because he is an icon in Miami, he often gets a pass for his occasional transgressions.
But whether Wade believes it or not, he is at a crossroads in his career. When the NBA Finals resume Thursday night, he will have four games – max – to convince us that he is still a max player.
Because right now, the only person convinced that Wade is still a max player is Wade.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His column appears every Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.