The Miami Heat won the 2013 NBA championship despite Dwyane Wade not playing like "Dwyane Wade" for the majority of the playoff run. If that happens next season, if Wade's knee issues continue to bother him, if he doesn't play at an elite level, then a Heat three-peat might not be in the cards.
Perhaps to a larger extent than most realize, Wade is crucial to the Heat's success. When he plays well, the Heat win. When he doesn't, Miami struggles.
Check out his win/loss splits for the 2012-13 season:
Wade's per-game averages in wins: 22.3 points on 54.2 percent shooting, 5.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.9 blocks and two steals.
Wade's per-game averages in losses: 16.9 points on 42.6 percent shooting, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 0.4 blocks and 1.4 steals.
The Heat's other two star players, LeBron James and Chris Bosh, don't have splits like that. LeBron performs nearly identically in wins and losses, while Bosh actually puts up better numbers in Heat losses.
Wade played awfully in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. The impact: An Indiana Pacers team that finished 16.5 games worse than Miami in the regular season took the Heat to seven games.
And you know what?
The Pacers are going to be better next season. The fact that Indiana had to overwork its starters because of a horrible bench proved to be costly in Game 7 of that series. But that won't be an issue in 2013-14. Indiana bolstered its bench by adding C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland.
Unfortunately for Wade and Miami, it's not just the Pacers that are tougher.
Look at it this way: The New York Knicks, the No. 2 seed in the East this past season, could very easily fall all the way down to the No. 5 seed in 2013-14. That's how improved this conference is.
The Heat got away with Wade's shaky play in the 2013 playoffs. It would be an enormous challenge to do the same in 2014.
All the Heat really need from Dwyane is to perform at the level he did in the 2012-13 regular season. While Wade posted his worst points-per-game average (21.2) since his rookie season, he still performed at a superstar level. He shot a career best field-goal percentage (52.1 percent) and averaged five rebounds and 5.1 assists.
If Wade can get past the knee issues that hindered him in the 2013 playoffs and return to form for all of next season, Miami has to be a monster favorite to repeat, regardless of the increased competition.
Referring to someone as an X-factor is often overused in sports, but it absolutely applies in this case. LeBron is Miami's best player by far (obviously), but there's no one more important to the 2013-14 Heat than D-Wade.