Wade on, Into History

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Credit: Flickr/cuppyuppycake

“Sometimes it’s frustrating because I know I’ve got more,” Wade admits. “I’ve totally changed my game. I tried to do it for what I feel is the best for this team. Was it the best for me individually? Maybe not.”- Dwyane Wade

The Alpha Bet by Brian Windhorst (ESPN Chicago) 

In case you couldn’t tell, Dwyane Wade is frustrated. Between trading shots publicly with Kevin Durant and having his status as a top player getting called into question prior to that in last season’s playoffs, you can see it. It’s even more evident in his other actions this summer such as, as Windhorst also tells us, having private late-night workout with his own personal trainer following his workouts with the Heat. Yes, Dwyane Wade still wants you to know that he is still a top dog in the NBA kennel and he is going to doing everything to convince you that he hasn’t lost a step.

This whole conversation seems silly concerning a player who last season averaged 21-5-5 on .521 percent shooting, but he has missed 30 total games combined between the  last two seasons and how he struggled in the playoffs to the point where he played five fewer minutes per game from the ’12 playoffs to the ’13 playoffs. Perhaps they were just nagging injuries that finally caught up to him, but his shot was flat and there were legitimate concerns that he might miss time, or possibly be unable to be productive enough to lift the Heat in those crucial latter rounds. There is no doubt Wade is important, but he’s 31-going-on-32, dealt with injuries and plays a very physical brand of basketball, so the questions regarding his alpha status are warranted.

Much like last spring’s playoffs, we’ve already seen Wade fatigue as a result of his training regimen. Just this preseason, Windhorst notetd in his piece that Wade has fatigued late in games as a result of trying to do too much. In August I wrote about the Timberwolves’ initiative to avoid over-training their players by getting the coaches, team trainers and players’ personal trainers on the same page by working together to design plans that are not only effective, but safe as well. For a team that is looking to repeat it’s crucial that they not only avoid over-training consequences such as fatigue, but also other more severe overuse injuries. I mean, Wade is reportedly in remarkable shape, but that does no one any good to have him wear down late in the season again. Besides, Wade is training like he’s 25 again, but he’s approaching 32 and needs to adjust it to continue to produce at a high level.

If not, what do the Heat do in order to preserve Wade for the long-term and happy in the short-term? Ideally, Wade cuts back on his regular season workload, but will Wade allow that to happen is the question. Doing so is, in a lot of ways, admitting weakness and that you can no longer handle the workload you used to, and that’s no easy, especially for a player like Wade. Yet, his own teammate Ray Allen arrived at that crossroads in recent years and has gone on to be a valuable contributor and added a ring to his collection. Asking anyone to swallow their pride is difficult, but can prove to be rewarding to do.

Dwyane Wade also wants you to know that he’s still here and he still matters, which of course he does. Duh. It’s just that, even though he is still a productive NBA player, LeBron James has taken over Wade’s role as the face of the Miami Heat– the same distinction Wade held nearly for a decade. As also alluded to in Windhorst’s piece, there should be a distinction made between LeBron and Wade being friends and friendly. Again, back to last season’s playoffs when LeBron said that he felt like he was back in Cleveland and Wade responded that the MVP couldn’t do it on his own, you could begin to see some possible tension there. Which is problematic for a team that relies so much on their ability to coexist to be successful. The pair have had to overcome external pressure regarding how their playing styles will mesh or not, as well as just general public vitriol.

While they’ve overcome all of those external pressures, they’ve never had to deal with any internal tensions before– no less from one of the big three. The most difficult obstacle for them to overcome the natural pride and ego that comes with the territory of being superstars on a team like this. We’ve seen in the past how these things have undercut dynasties before their time like the Shaq-Kobe Lakers and others before them. In order for the Heat to be viewed more like the Spurs as far as their ability to keep a powerhouse together. Until now we’ve seen key role players come into the Heat by sacrificing playing time and minutes they could have had elsewhere to be a champion. Those players have been, funny enough, around Wade’s age but willing to sacrifice all of those things. that can be so difficult to do.

However, it’s just not that easy. As I said above, this has always been Wade’s team. This isn’t a player going to a new team late in his career. No, this is a great player on the only team he has ever known having to deal with accepting a smaller role because his teammate has passed him as the team’s top player. Fortunately for Wade, LeBron is the type of player that makes his teammates better, but the question will be can Wade trust him enough to keep him a factor on this team. Any good relationship is built around trust — including ridiculously talented basketball players — but LeBron will also have to continue to be the exceptional all-around player he has been in order to keep his teammates happy and make his own life easier.

The reason any of this even matters is that the Heat are on the cusp of a level of greatness that hasn’t been done since the 80’s: four consecutive NBA Finals appearances. Granted, it’s not supposed to be easy. Why should it be? If it were, it wouldn’t be the same; it’s supposed to be hard. The Heat can do it, but if they are willing to put their own pride and ego aside to do what’s best for the team in hopes of accomplish an incredibly rare historical feat is the main question here. For a team that had to come together through all of the distractions to make it as far as they have, it would be unfortunate for them to be their biggest obstacle standing in the way of being remembered further as one of the NBA’s all-time greatest teams.

Derek James

In addition to writing for Hardwood Paroxysm, Derek James covers the Minnesota Timberwolves for 1500ESPN in Minneapolis. Derek is also a co-editor for SB Nation's At the Hive-- the best Charlotte Hornets blog around. He often finds himself writing too many words on irrelevant players. Unrelated to LeBron James, but taught him everything he knows.