Don't look now, but next summer, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all opt out of their contracts with the Miami Heat and potentially take their services elsewhere. Of course, the chances of all three departing seem very slim, but there is a possibility that one or two of them will bolt.
The one player whose potential exit would probably be most surprising is Wade's, and he actually may be the key to keeping the Heat's Big Three intact.
We already know that James is the best player on Miami, but the guy who is most integral to his success and the guy who is the most instrumental in keeping him content is D-Wade, and with the 31-year-old Wade aging rather quickly over the past couple of years, you have to wonder if LeBron is having second thoughts about committing to the Heat long term.
That's why Wade needs to evolve his game, or reinvent himself, if you will.
Evidently, Wade already seems keen on doing just that, as he recently told the Miami Herald that, in terms of adding to his game, "the only thing left" would be to start hitting threes like Mike Miller. Hey, he did hit four threes during a game against the Indiana Pacers this past season.
In all seriousness, I'm not sure if that was a tongue-in-cheek remark by Dwyane, but he has to know that he is not the explosive force that he once was. That's why we'll operate under the assumption that there was at least some truth to what Wade said.
The problem is, that above showing against Indiana aside, D-Wade is not exactly Miller from behind the three-point line. He is a career 28.9 percent shooter from distance, and from 2008-09 through 2010-11, he experimented with becoming a legitimate threat from there to no avail. He attempted a combined 727 triples during that stretch, hitting them at a rather paltry 30.8 percent clip.
Wade ostensibly realized that jacking up that many long-range shots with that type of efficiency was hurting his team rather than helping, so he toned it down in 2012-13 and 2013-14, taking only 122 treys between those two campaigns. His rate? Just 26.2 percent. For lack of a better phrase, that isn't very good.
While Wade does not necessarily have to become Miller from downtown, if he wants to truly help Miami, he needs to spend a lot of time working on his outside shot to at least become respectable. Doing so would also prolong his career, as his balky knees just do not allow him to recklessly attack the basket like he once did.
Wade has always been most effective when he has been able to slash to the rim, but that cannot be the case on a consistent basis anymore. His body just can't handle that type of stress and punishment at this stage of his career. That's why developing a three-point shot would go a long way in preserving Wade and aiding his ballclub.
Not only would this give D-Wade's legs some more life, but it would assist James as a player, too. Being the aggressive slasher that he is, the more outlets LeBron can have to kick the ball back out to, the better. Plus, with the aforementioned Miller now playing in Memphis, someone needs to step up and replace him as a perimeter threat. Could Wade be that someone?
What we have to realize is that James wants to be in a winning situation more than anything else. That's why he left the Cleveland Cavaliers, and that's why he took his talents to South Beach in the first place. He saw Wade and Bosh and thought that that was his best opportunity to win multiple championships, and hey, he has done just that.
So, with D-Wade aging and Bosh not really living up to expectations, will James stick around?
None of us know for sure, and it seems doubtful that even LeBron has made up his mind yet. What he may be waiting for, however, is to see how Wade performs this coming season. If Wade adds a couple of new wrinkles to his game to compensate for his loss of athleticism, James may be more inclined to re-up with the Heat. And if Wade and LeBron stay, why would Bosh leave?
This is why Wade truly must have some type of renaissance in 2013-14.
As dominant as James is, let's be honest: There is a lot of mileage on his body, too, and it remains to be seen just how much longer LeBron can continue to go full throttle for 48 minutes a night. He is entering his 11th season, and with all of the playoff games and Olympic tournaments he has participated in, it seems much more than that.
In a rapidly improving Eastern Conference, Miami can no longer get away with Wade averaging 15.9 points per game in the postseason like he did in 2013. It nearly cost the Heat a second straight title, and there are only so many times James and company can come out of the playoffs unscathed with Wade performing that way.
D-Wade certainly had some "Flash" moments during the 2013 postseason, particularly in Game 4 of the finals, but those outings are becoming fewer and farther between for the perennial All-Star and future Hall of Famer.
Plain and simple, Wade must modify his game, and Erik Spoelstra must make sure to monitor his 2-guard's minutes. The days of Wade playing 38 minutes a night are long gone. At this stage, 30 minutes of burn on a nightly basis may be more appropriate and accommodating to Dwyane. It would keep him fresh for the playoffs, and it would extend his career.
It would also help to ensure that Miami's Big Three stays together.
It may be tough for professional athletes to finally come to grips with the fact that they just cannot do what they used to, but Wade has to face that reality. He can still be a very, very good player, but he is no longer top-five material. He is now just an outstanding sidekick, a sad and unfortunate thing to admit considering he was the alpha dog on the Heat during James' first season in Miami, a season that was three short years ago.
The sooner Wade accepts this, the better. And who knows? Maybe he already has, as the 2013 postseason was quite easily the toughest of his career. Rarely do you see D-Wade being passive or invisible for long stretches of time, but that is what we saw a few months ago, and perhaps Wade saw it, too. For what was probably the first time in his life, Wade struggled to get going on the big stage, and that has to be a difficult pill to swallow for such an esteemed player.
Fortunately, that does not mean this the end of the road for Wade. Hardly. If he complies with his body and begins to tailor his game to suit his knees, he can still be an incredibly effective player.
For the Heat, they just have to hope Wade realizes all of this before it's too late.