The 2014 NBA Finals proved many things. It proved that in an era obsessed with posterizing dunks and isolation offense, sharing the ball and making crisp passes still produces the most beautiful brand of basketball. It proved that having a stable culture and sound decision-makers at the top of an organization is crucial for an extended run of excellence. It proved that the Miami Heat need to reconfigure their roster to extend their window. And it proved that Dwyane Wade‘s time as a franchise-caliber player is a distant memory.
Wade looked old, tired and, at times, disinterested during the Finals. The San Antonio Spurs challenged him, and the three-time world champion was unable to respond. Offensively, the Spurs disregarded Wade’s outside shot. When Wade got into the paint, he missed numerous close-range shots. The Spurs had such little concern for Wade’s offense, they even guarded him with Boris Diaw for stretches. In the final two games of the series, Wade shot just 28 percent, scored a combined 21 points and committed six turnovers.
While Wade’s offensive game was non-existent towards the end of the series, his defensive play was somehow worse. Wade was frequently beaten off the dribble when guarding Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. He missed on steal attempts, fell asleep on back-cuts and was frequently late getting back on defense. All told, Wade finished with a plus/minus of minus-54 in the series.
The drop-off in his numbers from the regular season to the Finals seems drastic. Wade was incredibly efficient during the regular season. He had an effective field-goal percentage of 55.1 percent and averaged 19 points per game. Yet, these numbers are somewhat deceptive. Wade played in just 54 regular season games. He rarely played two nights in a row and was never forced to play heavy minutes. In addition, Wade was never defended by the other team’s best perimeter defender, as that player was always responsible for guarding LeBron James. Wade’s numbers are strong, but considering the maintenance program he was on and the players surrounding him, his stats are somewhat inflated.
Considering all of these aspects, Wade and Miami now must decide what to do about the future. Like James and Chris Bosh, Wade can opt-out of his current contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. If Wade were to opt-out, he could still re-sign with the Heat in a new deal. Wade also has the option to opt-in to his contract the next two seasons, an approach that would guarantee him $41 million over that time.
Ideally, the Heat would convince Wade to opt-out of his contract and sign a new deal for more years and less money. Wade need only look at the team that just demolished his Heat in the Finals to see the benefits. Tim Duncan signed a three-year contract for just over $10 million per season with the Spurs. The move allowed San Antonio to keep its core together and extend its competitive window. Wade could sign a similar deal, perhaps four years for $48 million. This deal would give Wade more long-term security and allow the Heat to add valuable pieces in free agency.
If he chooses to opt-in, the Heat will find it difficult to build a championship-caliber team around him. Wade would take up too much of Miami’s cap space for it to re-tool its roster. The move may also cause James and Bosh to look for new teams, as they realize Wade’s contract will affect their chances of winning another ring.
Assuming Wade prioritizes winning over money and returns to the Heat, the next decision to make is what Wade’s role will be on the court. Again, the Heat should look to the Spurs for inspiration. At this point in his career, Wade is best suited to be a game-changing sixth man. He could be the Heat’s Manu Ginobili and run the team’s offense for stretches while James sits. Wade could drop his minutes load from 33 to around 23 per game, lowering the mileage he puts on his knees and extending his career.
Asking Wade to take less money and play a reduced role will be difficult for Miami as the organization is extremely loyal to him. Still, if the Heat wish to bring back the Big Three and add the pieces necessary for them to get back to the Finals, they will need Wade to make a personal sacrifice. As the Finals proved, using the Spurs as a blueprint is always a wise decision.