There was a time when Dwyane Wade was the king of Miami, the cornerstone of a championship franchise. He was universally loved and respected by fans, teammates and opponents alike. There was a time when some considered him to be the second-best player on the planet.
But times change.
Wade is no longer a cornerstone, now comprising one-third of the Heat’s foundation. And an injury-plagued playoff run has led some to question whether Wade is still the same “Flash” that hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2006.
Kevin Durant suggested earlier this month that Wade is no longer a top-10 NBA player and said that former Thunder teammate James Harden, now with the Rockets, has supplanted Wade on the list.
Heat fans are hoping Durant’s comments will drive Wade to prove doubters wrong — and perhaps he will — but Wade said he’s just as motivated as every year, regardless of what has been said about him.
Chip on shoulder
“I always enter with a chip on my shoulder. People always think something about something,” Wade said. “I’ve played with that chip just because of who I am and where I come from, and I’ll always play that way.”
But just because Wade isn’t completely focused on proving doubters wrong doesn’t mean that he won’t make the public forget about the hobbled version of him that took the hardwood in the playoffs, averaging a career-low 15.9 points per game.
Wade, LeBron James and coach Erik Spoelstra all indicated that Wade is healthier than he’s been in a long while. The previous two summers, Wade underwent offseason surgery. The bone bruise on his knee that plagued Wade in the latter half of last season has fully healed and didn’t require surgery.
Translation: look out, NBA.
“I hear ‘A healthy Dwyane Wade’ and I get excited,” James said. “This is probably as healthy as he’s been since  training camp. He’s hungry. He’s hungry to get back to form and to show why he’s one of the greatest two-guards to ever play this game.”
Spoelstra expressed disappointment that Wade’s insistence on playing through injury in last year’s playoffs was framed as a negative storyline.
When Wade injured his knee in a regular-season game against Boston, he knew the only way to get healthy was to take time off, three to four weeks. Instead, he played through the injury in a diminished capacity, drawing criticism and cries that the 11-year veteran was on the decline.
“That should be celebrated. Most players probably wouldn’t have played, and you don’t leave yourself subjected to that kind of criticism,” Spoelstra said. “He played through it with the doctors’ and our trainers’ support, knowing that it couldn’t get worse, but it wasn’t going to get better either. He had to do it in different ways and he did take a lot of criticism, but he’s a warrior for playing through that.”
This could be the first season Wade is healthy since becoming fully comfortable in his role on this team.
The second option
“I’m the second option. Let’s just point-blank say it,” Wade said. “Obviously I don’t have the ball as much so I’ve got to be a better post-up player, I’ve got to be way more efficient than I’ve ever been. I’ve got to — kind of like I did with the Olympic team — find ways to be ‘involved when I’m not involved.’”
Since the arrival of James and Chris Bosh, Wade has gradually improved at affecting the game without being the primary ballhandler, learning how to better cut to the basket, rebound and play defense.
Wade joked that he still thinks he’s a “pretty good” second option, and perhaps narratives of his decline are premature. With the efficacy Wade developed the past two seasons in his secondary role and a body healthier than it’s been in a while, the nine-time All-Star may be poised to have one of his most efficient seasons.
Wade may not be the king of Miami anymore, but the Heat seem pretty content to have Wade be a foundational piece as it embarks on a mission for a third title in a row.