HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — As LeBron James flirts with Cleveland and Chris Bosh gets sweet-talked to leave South Beach for Houston, Dwyane Wade seemingly is left with as little control over the future of the Big Three as he has over his prematurely and chronically achy knees.
If the Heatles do break up after two titles and four trips to the NBA Finals in four seasons, the overriding reason will simply be because Wade broke down. If he’s even close to the same Wade that recruited James and Bosh to Miami four years ago, the Big Three would already be back and the Heat reloading with visions of more titles, while Cleveland would be swooning over the next big thing, Andrew Wiggins, and not now suddenly and breathlessly awaiting reconciliation with their former hometown hero turned villain.
As for Wade, the “Flash” is sadly now more a flash in the pan, his faulty knees robbing him of prime basketball years and possibly now of contending in the years he has left. At age 32 — with knees that suggest his career is much further down the road — Wade stands to be the biggest loser in free agency, a period in which so many believed he, James and Bosh would be back. Of course, they still might.
But if James determines this run is done, he’ll have his choice of teams to transform into instant contenders. Bosh can take the lucrative deal the Rockets reportedly offered him Monday to play with James Harden and Dwight Howard.
But what about Dwyane?
Wade opted out of the final two years and $41.8 million of his contract. Bosh and James opted out of the final two years and $42.7 million of their contracts. Widespread belief held the trio did so to stay together, to rework their deals for additional years but at less money per annum to allow Heat president Pat Riley to refurbish the roster.
Yet reports have suggested that James wants a max deal that would start at more than $20 million. Bosh, reports say, wants in the neighborhood of $80 million and $90 million over five years from Miami and Wade wants between $55 million and $60 million over four years (I suggested Wade’s deal should be four years, $40 million). At those rates, with each knowing the more each took the less would remain for quality reinforcements, the question has to be asked if the Big Three really planned to stay together when they met over a meal prior to free agency or if they actually were saying their goodbyes?
Wade managed to play in just 54 regular-season games last year while adhering to a strict maintenance plan designed to allow him to be at full strength throughout the playoffs. He was still a highly efficient scorer, shooting 54.5 percent while averaging 19.0 ppg on 14.1 field-goal attempts, the lowest total since his rookie season in 2003-04.
But he didn’t play in back-to-back games and missed more games during certain stretches than expected. Wade’s bouncing in and out of the lineup frustrated James, made it impossible to keep a consistent rotation and was likely a significant factor in the Heat’s diminished defensive prowess last season.
In the playoffs, Wade blistered the Pacers for 19.8 ppg on 54.5 percent shooting, but against San Antonio he seemed at a loss to be able shift gears at key times, specifically during the final minutes of Game 1 when the Spurs took control after James left with cramps. In Games 4 and 5, Wade went 7-for-25 from the floor.
It’s difficult to believe Wade won’t be restricted to a similar maintenance program next season. Once a player loses the physical ability that elevated him to superstar status, it typically doesn’t return. That’s the reality Wade and the Heat face.
The season before James and Bosh joined Wade in Miami, the Heat went 47-35 and lost in the first round with a roster that included a younger Udonis Haslem, Michael Beasley in his second season, Quentin Richardson, Jermaine O’Neal, Carlos Arroyo, Mario Chalmers, Rafer Alston and Dorrell Wright.
If James and Bosh elect to go separate ways, upper-tier free agents will begin to be snapped up, and Miami, with only Norris Cole currently under contract (plus first-round pick Shabazz Napier and free agent Josh McRoberts reportedly agreeing to a deal Monday), might be lucky to cobble together a roster as complete as that one in 2009-10.
And Wade, his career now clearly on the down side and his biggest payday still with Miami, could find his fortunes of the last four seasons turned completely upside-down.