Why Dwyane Wade Must Accept Reduced Role for Miami Heat to Thrive in 2013-14

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 23, 2013

In order to capture their third consecutive NBA title, the Miami Heat are going to have to save Dwyane Wade from himself.

Since entering the league a decade ago, D-Wade has been defined by his aggressive, often reckless style of play. Problematically, that attack-mode approach extends to his attitude off the floor, which is why he has always bristled at the idea of taking it easy on his banged-up body.

Wade told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel

Obviously it's a long season, but you don't want to go in thinking I'm going to half [way] it at all. You want to go in thinking, when you're out on the floor, however many minutes you play, you want to give it what you have. That's what makes our team good.

Wade's defiant unwillingness to pace himself wasn't a problem in his younger days, when he and the world embraced his iconic "Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight" mantra.

He was practically invincible then, but now that he's older and has accumulated something more like 7,000 falls, the accumulated bumps and bruises are taking their toll.


Harm's Way

Two years ago, Wade underwent knee surgery. And though he avoided the knife this past summer, he still spent the offseason trying to rehab his way past the knee troubles that severely limited him in the playoffs. For two straight seasons, Wade has put together excellent regular seasons, only to see his productivity dip in the postseason because of nagging injuries.

So, sure, he's healthy right now. But that has a lot to do with the fact that Wade spent the summer losing weight and has been sitting out every other preseason game.

According to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today, LeBron James is fired up about his teammate's current physical state: "It's the healthiest he's been probably since (the 2010) training camp. He's hungry to get back to form and to showcase why he's one of the greatest 2-guards ever to play this game. I hear healthy Dwyane Wade, I get excited."

That's great, LeBron, but haven't we seen enough over the past two years to know that Wade starting the season in good shape doesn't always mean he'll end it that way?

D-Wade has made a point to chalk up his most recent injuries to freak accidents and hard contact, as though that's supposed to be create confidence in his ability to stay healthy. The truth is that his style of play puts him at risk for those kinds of "freak accidents." So even if his issues aren't chronic, degenerative conditions (which, by the way, tend to result from repeated impacts like the ones Wade so often suffers), the point is that there's little reason to expect those issues to subside in season No. 11.


When In Doubt, Copy the Spurs

That means the Heat have to take a cautious approach for Wade because he's too proud (in a somewhat admirable way) to do it himself.

To that end, Miami needs to take a page from the San Antonio Spurs' "Tim Duncan Preservation Manual." The Heat have to force Wade to sit out the second of back-to-back games and should strongly consider imposing a strict per-game minute limit.

Wade logged 34.7 minutes per contest last season, which hardly seems like an overwhelming number until you note that the Spurs have held Duncan below that figure in every season since 2005-06. And over the past three seasons, Timmy has averaged fewer than 30 minutes per contest, per Basketball-Reference.com.

If Wade were willing to accept a team-imposed minute cap like the one that governs Duncan's playing time, it could go a long way toward preserving his legs for the playoffs. That's going to be a bitter pill to swallow for a guy who has always prided himself on staying on the court for as long as he was able to hobble around.

Even before the preseason started, Wade was clear in his stance on how he'd approach this year.

Per Winderman: "We're not that much better than teams where we can preserve and sit guys and do this and that. That is not the way we do things. You try your best, knock on wood, you don't suffer any injuries."

Ironically, knocking knees on the hardwood is precisely why Wade should preserve himself by sitting out occasionally.

But hey, maybe he's right. Maybe because the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets are all improved, the Heat can't bank on securing a No. 1 seed in the East unless they play all-out this season. And from the standpoint of Miami's team psyche, there's already enough danger of complacency setting in after two straight titles.

Introducing the element of deliberate coasting by holding Wade back could further reduce the team's killer instinct in a dangerous way.

But if Miami has to choose between getting Wade's best effort all season or saving him for the Finals, it should certainly opt for the latter. We all saw how tough it was for the Heat to dispatch the Pacers and Spurs last season when Wade was clearly playing hurt. If not for a couple of fortunate bounces against San Antonio, the narrative this past offseason would have focused on how Wade's physical failure cost the Heat a title.

Given how close the Spurs came to beating the Heat in the Finals, Miami has to consider the scary proposition of sacrificing playoff seeding in order to take a full-strength roster into the playoffs.


Complications Arise

At the same time, there are a handful of significant factors that could make it even more difficult for the Heat to convince Wade to accept a reduced role for the greater good.

This is technically a contract year for D-Wade. With the ability to exercise his early-termination option after the season, he'll want to prove to any potential suitors (including the Heat) that he can stay healthy enough to hold onto his position among the league's elite.

Not only that, but he'll also want to show James that he can be relied upon for an entire campaign—both regular season and playoffs. That would go a long way toward keeping LBJ in Miami beyond this season, which is something Wade should want if he's at all concerned with adding to his trophy case.

So, between Wade's pride and the external factors telling him that he should do everything possible to push through the year without restrictions, it's going to be extremely difficult for the Heat to impose limits on him.

But resting Wade for a handful of games and instituting a minutes cap is the smartest way to make a run at another ring this year and ensure that the Heat will remain intact for a few more title chases in the future.

Forget "fall down, stand up." The Heat need to make sure Wade sits down a little more often so they can stand tall in the playoffs.


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