Not only is the 2013-14 campaign going to be an adventure as LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Wade and the rest of the Heat chase a third straight title, but the ensuing offseason will inevitably be filled with ups and downs as well.
If Wade were the perfect picture of health, there would be far less drama.
A healthy Wade and LeBron simply can't be beat without an abnormally strong effort from the opposition, which was exactly what Pat Riley was thinking when recruiting everyone to South Beach. Plus, there wouldn't be any need to think about free agency.
But with the 2-guard operating on a balky joint, everything is up in the air.
What's Up With That Joint?
After planning to sit out against the Charlotte Bobcats before Mario Chalmers was suspended for making elbow-to-face contact with Dirk Nowitzki, Wade wasn't particularly effective when called into action. He played just 23 minutes, recording four points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field to go along with his two rebounds and three assists.
Me and coach, like I said we’re going to do this year, is have constant communication, and I had communication with our training staff, and they felt that they want to take this opportunity for me to focus on getting stronger these next couple days and try to get a little better. We all listen to each other.
Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel speculates that this was more of a strategic move than anything else, as the Heat may have viewed the Paul Millsap-less Hawks as less of a threat than the Orlando Magic (next up on the Miami schedule).
Wade would go on to reveal that he was operating at 70 percent, although the number sometimes crept up to 75. "I’m just trying to get consistent as much as possible and as time goes," the 2-guard told Goodman. "Hopefully, the treatment I got this summer will take over a little more and the discomfort will go a way a little more."
Is that wishful thinking?
No one knows. The best we can do is speculate, as that's what the man in possession of the knee is doing. Why else would he have started his last sentence with a word like "hopefully"?
Thus far, Wade has been a positive contributor for Miami, but he's not playing like an All-Star. With a shooting percentage that has dropped to 48.0 percent from the field, Wade is averaging 16.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per contest with a PER of 18.51, courtesy of ESPN.com.
D-Wade level? Certainly not.
This isn't suddenly going to get better either.
It's the same malady that he was dealing with throughout Miami's run to a second consecutive championship, one that almost kept him out of a series-clinching game. It's the same one that was treated with OssaTron shock therapy over the summer. No matter how he handles it, it's a chronic injury that only gets worse when forced to endure the rigors of professional basketball.
Miami has already given Wade two maintenance days during the first 11 games of the season, and it's still only at a self-described 70 percent. That's not suddenly going to skyrocket up near 100.
But what does that mean for the Heat? Well, it depends on the time frame in question.
What Does It Mean For This Season?
Miami still doesn't need to be concerned about its chances of three-peating. Well, no more than it already is.
A more serious injury to Wade would change that, but a nagging knee injury has been dealt with and overcome in the past. How is this any different than the last go-around?
The Eastern Conference as a whole could be tougher, but only if Derrick Rose gets all the way back to his pre-injury form and the Brooklyn Nets/New York Knicks start to bounce back. But on top of that, Wade shouldn't be as broken down by the time the playoffs roll around.
That's the point of the OssaTron therapy, after all. Well, kind of.
After Wade underwent the shock treatment, I reached out to Will Carroll, B/R's injury expert, and asked him about the long-term ramifications of such a procedure:
Hmm. "Some level of short-term relief."
That means that Wade should be feeling better...right about now. And maybe he is. After all, we have no way of knowing what his status would be otherwise, and that 70 percent mentioned above may have dwindled down to a 30 or 40.
In a vacuum, which is unfortunately our medium here, 70 percent means nothing other than the fact that it's less than 100 percent.
By staying a little bit fresher now, Wade should be similarly fresher in the playoffs, even if the therapy doesn't actually have such far-reaching consequences.
But on top of that, Miami's roster is built to withstand a battle with effectiveness from the All-Star shooting guard.
That's exactly what we saw happen against the Hawks, when Miami extended its record to 8-3 with a 16-point victory that was admittedly a bit closer than the final margin would indicate. Three key storylines emerged from the game: the defense finally putting it all together against a potent offense, Chris Bosh stepping up and the bench standing out as a high-quality unit.
I broke down the middle development in detail here, but allow me to include the thesis statement once more, preserved in its original form:
Bosh proved once more that he isn't just a third wheel in Miami; he's still the third member of the Big Three, and he's capable of rising to the occasion when he needs to be part of a Big Two.
And that's what is so important to remember.
Miami's success is based around a three-man core, and as long as LeBron and one of the other two is standing on the court, it's going to be an effective unit. No matter how concerned you are about Wade's knee, it's still tough to be concerned about Miami's title dreams at this early stage of the season.
Between LeBron getting better—yes, it's possible—and the depth of quality options in South Beach, the Heat are still in prime position to chase after their three-peat dreams. And just imagine what happens if Greg Oden finally holds down a rotation spot.
How About After the 2013-14 Campaign?
Now here's where the roller coaster takes a significant turn.
I don't know if you've heard yet, but LeBron can become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. And he could—gasp—leave the Miami Heat, choosing instead to join a team that gives him a better shot at winning a title.
Let's say that the track of this coaster leads to a third title in three seasons. That's when it takes a plunge and your stomach starts to churn, because you know the big drop on the ride is coming up.
If LeBron leaves, it would be akin to a drop that only ends when the ride bottoms out and crashes into the ground. But if he stays, that uneasy feeling would soon be replaced by one of pure enjoyment as the track twists into some new feature.
A corkscrew or loop, perhaps.
There are a lot of factors that will go into his inevitable free-agency decision, but let me bring back a video from a few years ago. Cleveland Cavaliers fans, avert your eyes.
"This is going to give me the best opportunity to win, and to win for multiple years."
Is LeBron a loyal person? I'd like to believe so, even though he left his hometown. Remember, he did that to play with close friends and become a part of a situation more conducive to winning titles. And at the end of the day, it's the last point that matters most.
LeBron's free-agency decision will ultimately be decided by whichever franchise can offer him the best chance at extending his collection of rings to a more-impressive number. If that's Miami, fine. If it's going to come elsewhere, then you can reasonably expect for him to be on the move.
And that's why Wade's knee is so important.
The shooting guard is already 31 years old, and he'll turn 32 this January. He's already past his athletic prime, and it's becoming abundantly clear that his career will deteriorate faster than that of some of his fellow superstars. Wade's game is predicated on athleticism, and it's tough to thrive when playing with only one healthy knee.
If he's wearing down and needing maintenance days this early on in the 2013-14 campaign, what's going to happen in 2014-15? Worse yet, what will he look like in 2016-17?
Again, "...to win for multiple years."
So long as basketball continues to come easy to LeBron on an individual level, winning titles is going to be his ultimate goal. He's no longer operating in a manner that draws comparisons to current greats; it's all about earning his place in history.
That won't be easy next to a crippled teammate eating up cap room and a spot in the lineup.
The track of this roller coast has yet to be fully decided, but Wade's knee may as well be the operator of the switchboard (yep, our coaster is pretty advanced). It's going to have a major impact.
Even if it may not affect this season quite as much as you'd think, it'll have far-reaching ramifications no matter what happens in 2013-14.