To think, the 2012 Miami Heat team that made it to the NBA Finals was just as hurt and ailing as the 2011 team that made it to the Finals and lost.
In 2011, the Heat only dealt with Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem—two key bench players—and their ailments. Compare that to 2012, when Miller was still hurt, Haslem was off his game, Chris Bosh sat out nine games and was rushed back and even Dwyane Wade didn't appear to be the same.
If not for LeBron James playing above and beyond on both ends of the floor and the heroics of guys like Mike Miller, Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers, the Heat may not have even ended up winning their second title.
It was a valiant effort by James and the shooting specialists to come up big when needed most, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.
As good as the Heat may have looked through their postseason excursion, they weren't nearly at 100 percent, and that includes Dwyane Wade, who played every playoff game despite needing his knee drained.
Wade's playoff numbers showed an obvious regression in his game. He averaged only 22.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists, while shooting only 46 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc.
While many would be happy with a stat line of 23-5-4, those numbers, as well as his shooting percentages, were below average compared to Wade's usual numbers.
He averaged 24.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 49 percent from the field and 27 percent from deep the previous postseason.
His NBA Finals numbers skyrocketed to 27 points per game on 55 percent shooting against a zone defense, while he only managed 22.6 points per game on 43 percent shooting.
Of course, this doesn't have everything to do with a slight regression in his game. A lot of it has to do with Wade adjusting to a decreased role in the action and deferring to LeBron, as he stated in an interview months prior when he handed the reins to James.
While James was allowed to roam freely with the ball, Wade took a step back rather than pass the ball back and forth with LeBron.
Wade wanted a free-flowing offense, and the only way it was going to happen was if he allowed LeBron to be LeBron. James had an easier time getting to the basket and drawing fouls, and worked best when the ball was in his hands.
The team wasn't exactly getting back to Cleveland-ball, though, as James still worked well with his two superstar teammates and the rest of the team through constant penetration into the lane.
This idea of Wade deferring to James also came about because Dwyane was ailing all season long. He missed 17 games and sporadically played throughout the season. Wade was hurt from the beginning of the year when he injured his ankle within the first week of the season.
Dwyane received minor knee surgery immediately after the conclusion of the Finals. It was described by the Associated Press as a "cleanup," and would take six to eight weeks of recovery.
Last we heard, Dwyane's recovery is going well.
As a result of his surgery, Wade ended up missing what would have been his third Olympic Games. He finished with bronze in 2004 and led the team in scoring and to a gold medal in 2008, which occurred shortly after recovering from all the surgeries he used to get into better shape for the 2008-09 season.
That season turned out to be the greatest—statistically speaking—of his career.
Because he missed the Olympics, Wade was given more time to reflect on his future with the Heat and within the NBA. He also had time to repair a knee that needed to be drained in between playoff games.
If you're a Heat coach, one of the last things you want to know is that your second-best player is going to be relying on doctors and good fortune for the rest of the playoffs.
Partaking in the Olympics was the last thing anybody should have wanted to see from Wade. It was obvious he was ailing in the playoffs, making unwise decisions, not getting his usual lift and not attacking as we're used to seeing.
He still performed, but it was obvious that he wasn't as good as usual.
Wade pushed his body to the limit too early in his career, and it resulted in surgeries that could have very well ended up damaging his legacy.
There's no reason for Wade to risk getting injured, or putting more stress on his knee, in an international game where the team wouldn't require his services to win.
Some aren't surprised that Wade was injured throughout the season, but in reality, it was the first time he's dealt with injuries in a season since 2008.
Since undergoing a number of surgeries that caused him to only play in 51 games in the 2007-08 season, Wade has maintained a high standard of health, missing only 14 games in three years.
Don't forget that Wade shouldered a heavy burden for two of those seasons.
Because LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen and Shane Battier are on the squad, the demand on Wade is as low as it has ever been. He'll be expected to perform to his usual standards, of course, but he'll be bailed out far more often whenever he has an off game.
Not to mention that he also won't have to go nearly as hard with the amount of support he's receiving.
Wade averaged only 33.2 minutes per game last year, the lowest of his career.
The addition of Allen is a huge positive for prolonging Wade's career. Allen will garner at least 25 minutes per game as the team's sixth man, which will allow room for Wade to get plenty more rest, rather than being the sole source of consistent play at the 2.
Mike Miller has had time at the 2, but with injuries playing a key role in his tenure with the team, Miami has gone with the likes of Battier, James Jones or even Mario Chalmers in certain instances.
With Allen now set to run at the 2, there's little doubt that Wade is going to come back with a vengeance this season. He, too, is riding the high of winning a championship, and with his knee said to be healing on schedule, he should end up having a huge season.
Even though he's turning 31 in January, Wade isn't about to allow the NBA world to forget about him while LeBron reaps all the praise.
As humble as Wade appeared when giving the team's reins to LeBron, he still possesses a superstar mentality—a dangerous mentality that makes him foam at the mouth for 30 points per game, live to be in the spotlight and want to fill up stat sheets.
Sure, Dwyane may have let LeBron take over the team last year, but he's still the same Dwyane Wade who wants the glory too.
No, Wade won't be looking to take his job back next year. He obviously cares more about the needs of the team than himself, and he sees that James leading the way is the way to win more titles.
However, that doesn't mean that James is going to be the one leading the team night in and night out. Dwyane, age, injuries and all, still wants to be the team leader.
Which is why we're going to end up seeing one of the most efficient seasons of Dwyane Wade's career. On top of missing the Olympics in order to spend time rehabbing his knee, Wade may still also receive help from a shooting coach—something he planned on doing this offseason after an inconsistent season from the mid-range.
If Wade can add a more consistent shot, he won't find himself attacking the rim and putting his ailing body on the line on every other possession.
Dwyane should be taking it easier by this point. Although he's still this team's second-best player and will be expected to contribute 22-5-5 this upcoming season, Wade should find himself getting easier shots off of mid-range jumpers or easy layups.
The layups will only come easier once defenders become wary of Wade's jumper.
By missing the Olympics and keeping himself busy rehabilitating his damaged knee, Wade's going to be as healthy as he's been entering a season since 2009.
You may remember in 2010 that Wade was nearly a game-time decision for the Big Three's regular-season opener after hurting himself in the team's first preseason game.
With Wade set to be healthy and ready by the September 28 start of training camp, and with some quality backup in tow, this season will be the least pressure-filled and least stressful of Wade's career—making it possibly one of the best seasons we could end up seeing from an extremely relaxed Dwyane Wade.
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