That is a sentence few would have expected to read just four years after LeBron James decided to take his talents to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat. But this is now an unfortunate reality for an organization that has enjoyed far more success than any other in the league during the past four seasons.
The Heat have a weak link in their Big Three, through which productivity has hemorrhaged at a rate that is no longer sustainable for an organization with aspirations of winning NBA titles.
Whether as the result of injuries, age, personal issues or other outside factors that we do not yet know about, Wade is no longer the player he was three years ago, particularly during the postseason. This presents a massive problem for a Heat team that has relied on their Big Three for more than 55 percent of their offensive production during the past three seasons.
During the 2013 NBA Finals, Wade was suffering from an injury to his surgically repaired left knee, even requiring the knee to be drained before Game 7 of the series.
That being said, there were several games during the 2013 NBA Finals series where Wade resembled that dominant player who put together one of the greatest performances in NBA Finals history back in 2006, but there were other games where Wade appeared fatigued right from the opening tip.
Wade scored 16 points or less during Games 2, 3 and 6; he scored 23 points or more during Games 4, 5 and 7, including 32 in Game 5.
Wade was essentially a mixed bag during the 2013 NBA Finals. The Heat had no idea which Wade they were going to get each night they took the floor against the San Antonio Spurs.
During the 2014 NBA Finals, Wade, although suffering from no known injuries, once again appeared to lack any semblance of the explosiveness that had made him arguably one of the top five shooting guards in NBA history throughout the first 10 years of his career.
And what should be most concerning to the Miami Heat is that at various points throughout the 2014 Finals, Wade looked almost indifferent to what was happening on the court. It was as if he had accepted the fact that his body had diminished to a point where he was no longer able to perform in a manner even remotely close to the way in which he had performed even three years ago.
Wade averaged 15.2 points per game during the 2014 NBA Finals with a field-goal percentage of just 43 percent.
And Wade was completely missing in action during the Heat’s final two losses in Games 4 and 5.
He missed nine out of his first 10 shots during Game 4 and finished the game with just 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting from the field.
Wade then shot 4-of-12 from the field for just 11 points during Game 5.
And that was just on the offensive side.
Wade’s defense was nothing short of atrocious throughout most of the 2014 NBA Finals, as seen in this 12-minute YouTube video that went viral just prior to Game 5.
For the entire series, Wade had an absolutely horrendous minus-54 plus/minus ratio.
Despite James going 20-of-38 from the floor and racking up 59 points during the final two games of the series, the complete lack of productivity from Wade was far more than the Heat could overcome against a very solid and deep San Antonio Spurs team.
So where do the Miami Heat go from here?
Well, James, Wade and Bosh are all eligible to opt out of their contracts for the 2014-15 NBA season.
While James will certainly evaluate a number of different factors before ultimately deciding whether to opt out of his current contract and test the free-agency market, James' decision will likely rest heavily on the direction Wade decides to take with regard to his two-year option.
Wade has three choices this offseason:
1. He could decide to exercise his current contract option and the Heat would be forced to pay him $41 million over the next two seasons.
2. He could opt out of his current contract with the Heat and test the free-agent market, where he would be eligible for a maximum five-year, $90 million contract. However, it is highly unlikely that the Heat or any other team in the league would offer Wade a deal that paid him more than the $20 million per year he is scheduled to collect from Miami during the next two seasons.
3. He could opt out of his current contract with the Heat and renegotiate a new deal with Miami worth less than what he was originally slated to earn over the next two seasons.
If Wade pursues either option two or three, there is an excellent chance that James will stay in Miami for at least two more seasons.
However, if Wade decides to exercise his option with the Heat, the odds of James hitting the road would increase dramatically.
The problem is that if Wade decides to exercise his option for the next two seasons, the Heat will be completely handcuffed in terms of their ability to bring in another big-time free agent unless Bosh and James both take dramatic pay cuts, which is unlikely.
Three years ago, the amount of money that Miami had allocated to the Big Three was not a big deal because the Heat only needed a supporting cast around James, Wade and Bosh.
But that is no longer the case.
Wade is no longer as asset worth the $41 million the Heat will need to pay him over the next two seasons.
If anything, Wade has become more of a liability on the court, particularly during the past two NBA Finals.
Heading into the 2014-15 NBA offseason, Wade essentially holds all the cards with regard to the Big Three—and the direction of the entire Miami Heat organization for that matter.
If Wade opts out of his contract and either leaves Miami or negotiates a lower salary to stay, it is very likely that James and Bosh will remain in Miami, the Heat will lure in another big-time free agent such as Carmelo Anthony and the squad will once again be the team to beat heading into the 2014-15 NBA season.
However, if Wade decides to exercise his option and collect $41 million over the next two years, the Big Three will more than likely crumble like a house of cards, along with the entire Miami Heat organization.
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