The presence of LeBron James allowed the Miami Heat to rest Dwyane Wade and his ailing knees for 28 games last season. But James is now gone – and so likely is that luxury.
Wade is still one of the game’s elite shooting guards, and his diminished skill set has been largely overstated, but the so-called “maintenance program” designed by trainers last season to keep him healthy for the playoffs might have to be amended for the post-LeBron era.
The team needs Wade to be a consistent scorer once again – one who plays more than 54 games in a season. Wade said at the start of training camp he wanted to play 75 games this season. On Thursday, he avoided the topic.
“Last year was last year, so we’ll see how this year goes,” he said.
The Heat visits the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night for its final preseason game. Wade and Chris Bosh aren’t expected to play much, if at all. For Wade, it might be his last off night for a while. Beginning with the home opener Wednesday against the Washington Wizards, the Heat will be learning on the fly how to win without James.
That will require a consistent presence by Wade.
“Right now the plan is for him to get better, get stronger and to be available, and we’ll adjust as we see fit,” coack Erik Spoelstra said of Wade, who averaged 19 points a game last year – lowest since his rookie season – but shot an efficient 54.5 percent from the field.
The Heat sleepwalked into the No.2 seed of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, and that was fine for a team that had been together for four years and won two championships in a row.
This season, the Heat might be fighting just to be one of the East’s top eight teams. Wade probably won’t have the luxury of resting weeks at a time like he did in late March and early April.
There was a specific plan for Wade entering last season, and his rest cycles were determined by various factors, including the amount of swelling in his knees. The goal of the shockwave therapy he underwent before the 2013-14 season was to prepare his body for another playoff run while also possibly strengthening his knees for future seasons.
Both the Heat and Wade are eager to see the long-term effects of the OssaTron shockwave therapy on his knees. Former Heat forward Rashard Lewis had the same procedure before the 2012-13 season. He’s now out of the league at 35 years old. Lewis signed with the Dallas Mavericks in July but was released four days later when he failed a physical. It was discovered his knee required surgery.
This season, the Heat is taking a wait-and-see approach with Wade’s health.
“He has been great with his workload, he has been great with his preparation to be able to handle the workload, and once we get into the games we’ll see if we need to adjust from there,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat released rookies Tyler Johnson, Larry Drew II and Shawn Jones after Wednesday’s preseason game against the Houston Rockets. The team expects all three to sign with the Heat’s D-League affiliate in Sioux Falls, but they are not under contract to do so. They could sign with other NBA teams, sign with the D-League or play overseas.
“We hopefully see it as not a cut but a reassignment,” Spoelstra said. “And that’s where the D-League has really changed and become now a developmental program. We have spent a lot of time investing – not only money, but time – investing in Tyler and Shawn and even Larry Drew and we want to continue that relationship.”