The knee has taken longer to heal than Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat or anyone else would have expected.
Four to six weeks was the projected recovery time. Training camp began Saturday, marking 11 1/2 weeks of Wade’s rehabilitation from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He will miss preseason games, perhaps all of them. He said Friday that his goal was to be ready for action Oct. 30, the day of the Heat’s season opener in Madison Square Garden.
For Wade, it’s a disappointing beginning to the Heat’s bid to repeat as NBA champion. This is the second preseason in the past two years Wade has spent time laboring over pain in his legs rather than playing, and last season, plantar fasciitis in his left foot nagged him often. He has had surgery on his left knee twice in the last four years and it swelled with fluid at the end of last season, forcing him to have it drained during the second round of the playoffs.
“I understand that it’s a process and I’m going to take that process and be … I’ve been here before, guys, so I know what to do. I’ll be all right,” Wade said to reporters Friday. “I went all the way around the block just to go next door.”
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In other words, he put off surgery on his knee for far too long.
The Heat will not admit it publicly, but there are concerns among those in the organization about the second half of Wade’s Hall of Fame career. Reckless abandon on the court made him famous and made him rich and made him loved in his adopted city of Miami, but now it’s making him and the Heat refocus their expectations. Wade is only 30 years old, but it’s an old 30.
Wade expects himself — as does the Heat — to play well into his 30s and at a very high level. It might seem early in his career for such things, but the team has started an aggressive plan to preserve Wade’s body for the long term. Reduced minutes, scheduled off days and a repurposed skill set are all being considered.
It begins in earnest with this training camp.
Wade is noticeably heavier this preseason than the last, so dropping weight, strengthening his legs and core and allowing his knee to heal fully from surgery are the first priorities. Next will come a more intense level of conditioning and monitored minutes of scrimmage time.
“I’m just strictly looking at him big picture,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t have a specific plan for him in training camp of how many days. We’re going to read and react to it.”
More days off likely
Although Spoelstra would like to have him back to full speed by Oct. 30, there is, in reality, no specific time crunch or deadline. Off days will be sprinkled into Wade’s rehab just as off days will dot his regular-season box scores. The ultimate goal is for Wade to be completely healthy and pain free after the All-Star break.
“When you feel good and you want to push it to the next level, sometimes that’s when it’s important to take the day off,” Spoelstra said.
Last season, Wade played 49 of the regular season’s 66 games. Convert that percentage to this season and that’s 22 games before the playoffs. By no means does Wade expect to miss that many regular-season games, but if he did, and you multiply those rest days over the next four years, that’s an entire season added on to Wade’s career.
There is a recent precedent for such a concerted effort to extend the career of a superstar, and it has worked better than expected for San Antonio. Tim Duncan has had knee problems throughout his career. After a knee procedure more than a decade ago, Duncan began scaling back his minutes and in the past two seasons, he has taken rest days throughout the regular season and played even fewer minutes.
At the age of 36, Duncan signed a three-year deal worth $34 million this offseason. If he doesn’t retire early, he still could be in the league at 39. Either way, he’ll walk away from the game with a Spurs jersey on his back.
Duncan has averaged 28 minutes per game for the past two seasons, yet his game has remained at a high level. He has averaged more than 14 points and nine rebounds over the past two seasons. In the 2011-12 playoffs, he averaged 17.4 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Like his games-played stat, Wade’s minutes receded in 2011-12. He averaged six fewer minutes per game during the regular season than the previous one. It allowed his body, despite carrying a few injuries, to still have enough in the tank to average more 39 minutes in the postseason.
“Last year, I did what I could with what I was dealing with and I didn’t do too bad,” Wade said. “This year, I’m looking to have an even better year. It’s all about just how efficient I can be.
“My opportunities are a lot different now than they’ve been, so I just want to be an efficient basketball player when I’m on the basketball court and that’s what I pride myself in.”
Wade’s buzzword Friday was “efficient.” The great ones have all made the transition from aggressive to artistic during their careers, and that is Wade’s eventual goal. His plan for this season and those beyond is to raise his shooting percentages, particularly from the free-throw line and midrange.
Of course, it’s not like Wade has been inefficient. Not even close. Last season, he ranked 13th in efficiency (22.1) in the league. Player efficiency is a measurement of a player’s overall production based on minutes played. The league average is around 15. LeBron James led the NBA last season with an efficiency rating of 29.9, according to NBA.com.
“We already made that adjustment last year,” Spoelstra said. “He went from about 39 minutes a game to 33. Even an older veteran player, older than him, can handle that.
“I don’t think there will be a need to take him down much further than that. He did make an incredible adjustment for a veteran player. His efficiency last year was about as high a year as he’s had in those 33 minutes he played.”
Less pressure on Wade
The addition of Ray Allen on the wing also will take some of the pressure off Wade. Wade and Allen play the same position and, as Wade can attest, Allen’s motor around the court will keep opposing defenders on their toes throughout the game. Wade still will work just as hard, but theoretically he won’t have to for so long every night.
“One thing is, we’ve put ourselves in a position,” Wade said. “I don’t have to play 40 minutes a night anymore. Signing a guy like Ray really helps and other guys can play multiple positions.
“Like I said, the minutes I play, I’ll be very efficient in and as the season goes on I’ll still continue to try to be stronger. Coming off surgery, you can’t just work out in the summer and think that’s it. Throughout the year, you still have to work. So, I have to work just as hard or even harder.”
Spoelstra is optimistic about Wade’s recovery. He said Friday that he expects Wade to return stronger this season than the last and that by the end of the season, if all goes as planned, “you’re going to see a great deal of that athleticism come back.”
“We’re encouraged by the summer that he had — that he was able to get the procedure,” Spoelstra said. “He was such a warrior in the playoffs and you saw bursts of it but what you saw was a veteran player — a winning player — doing whatever it took to win.
“But you’re going to see the cat quickness again.”