It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. Somewhere on the road to not one…. not two… not three… championships, the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade got more than they bargained for. The experiment failed in year one, as James and Wade struggled to find cohesion. The Heat were mocked and derided on every conceivable sports platform America has to offer, but through it all Wade and LeBron’s friendship remained intact.
Year two saw the two All-stars figure it out and in the process redeeming James’ choice to take his talents to South Beach. This year was supposed to be a victory lap, a post coronation parade for the King and his trusted ally. Then along came the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers pushed the Miami Heat physically and mentally in a way no team has since the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
After watching Wade struggle, LeBron finally voiced his frustrations. “I kind of just went back to my Cleveland days at that point and just said, ‘Hey, let’s try to make more plays and be more of a scoring threat as well.’”
The comment was an indicator that LeBron had lost faith in Wade. When James made a list of reasons to leave Cleveland for Miami, playing with Wade was at the top of the list. At the time, Wade and James were both considered top five players in the NBA. He signed-up for that Wade, not the one who routinely gives up on his defensive assignment, can’t shoot and resorts to hero ball. That’s not the Wade that Lebron envisioned when he predicted infinite NBA titles.
Despite his struggles against the Pacers, Wade felt differently. “We’ve got guys individually who want to play better,” Wade said. “But we’ve got to try to help each other out in this locker room and not leave it up to the individual to self-will it.”
Two years ago Wade and James were a united front, they even held their post-game press conferences together. Win or lose, Wade and James refused to let anything come in between them. Two years later they take veiled shots at one another after every loss. Wade revealed the heart of the matter last night.
“We got our butt whooped,” he said. “We got our butt kicked pretty good. We didn’t play good. We got away from some of the things we do. We got away from some trust. You can’t do that. You can’t break down, especially versus a team like this. We own it. We own it. This was a terrible performance by the Miami Heat. Our worst one yet.”
Spoken or unspoken, there was a tacit agreement between the two superstars. Superstars have huge egos, for their association to work, both men have had to sacrifice their games for the benefit of the team. James doesn’t feel like Wade is holding up his end of the bargain. It’s a valid point; Wade’s numbers have plummeted during the postseason, only averaging 14.2 ppg, while shooting 45 percent from the field. Compare this to his regular season numbers where he shot 52 percent from the field and averaged 21.2 ppg. It’s no wonder LeBron doesn’t trust Wade, he isn’t getting it done.
Wade’s injured right knee has been the convenient scapegoat for his poor play, and while I don’t doubt the injury, Wade’s effort and interest level have been an issue. He hasn’t adapted his game to his loss of athleticism, nor has he found other ways to help the team (he has picked up his rebounding over the last few games). Wade acts like he’s doing the Heat a favor anytime he decides to hustle or play defense.
Despite his instincts, LeBron decided to trust Wade, it worked in game seven vs the Pacers, Wade scored 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting, grabbing nine rebounds along the way. With his faith in Wade reestablished, LeBron went back to allowing Wade to do his thing and the results have been disastrous, Wade has started strong each game of the finals, but has disappeared in the second half. The Heat now find themselves in a 2-1 hole, with two more games in San Antonio.
The end of a friendship is always tough, the result is usually separation. If James and Wade don’t figure out a way to win their second NBA title, it’s a virtual certainty that one of the two men won’t be playing in South Beach after next season.
Ronny Carlton is an NFL writer for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter, here.