TORONTO – Before this season, Dwyane Wade had come off the bench only 11 times in 915 regular-season NBA games. That changed when he went to the bench, by request, early this season in Cleveland and continues now in his second Heat tour.
Erik Spoelstra made clear Tuesday that while he hasn’t ruled out anything, starting Wade is not a consideration at this time.
“Not right now; I’m not thinking of that,” Spoelstra said after the team’s shootaround at Air Canada Centre, before Tuesday’s game against the Raptors. “But I’m always open to anything, wherever the course of this season goes.”
Spoelstra said “there’s a lot to like” about Wade coming off the bench behind Tyler Johnson, with Wade able to assume backup point guard duties in that role.
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“You’re bringing a Hall of Fame talent off the bench that really helps your depth and your dynamic,” Spoelstra said. “He brings a standard of excellence, a standard of success. It brings confidence out of everybody.”
Wade has embraced the role but said it requires more ability to adjust than starting, with Wade of the mindset to offer whatever is needed that particular game.
“Starting you got to know this is what they expect of me,” he said. “Coming off the bench it definitely varies. Depending on if I’m coming off the bench and I’m handling it, if I’m coming off the bench and I’m at the two, whatever the case may be, you never know what it is.
“It really doesn’t matter to me. I’m not concerned with any of that. I’m just concerned with helping this team be a better team, get wins. I’m trying to get familiar with everything, trying to get in better shape with this team and with the stuff that they run. So I’m not really concerned with night to night what it would be.”
Wade believes the Heat’s bench could essentially become as good as another starting group, with James Johnson, Wayne Ellington, Bam Adebayo and Wade anchoring that group and Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder soon joining that group if Kelly Olynyk returns to the starting lineup after the All-Star break.
“Outside of everything that supposedly went wrong, we had a great bench in Cleveland,” Wade said. “I thought we had a good unit that can come in and change the game. And the same thing here. We have a great unit that can come in and change the ballgame and still be, in a sense, another starting five.
“So, it’s good, especially when you get to this time of year and it gets late in the year and you get to the playoffs, coach wants to look down that bench and know he can go 10 deep if he wants to and to know he’s got guys that know how to play together, that can play together for long stretches and not just here and there. I definitely embraced that role when I went to Cleveland. I felt it was individually the best role for me to play.”
Wade also is comfortable with point guard duties on the second unit.
“I’ve done it for a long time so whether I’m handling to make plays or whether I’m off the ball to be a scorer and also a playmaker, I’m used to it,” he said. “Whatever is called for, whoever is in the game, whatever coach needs me to do, I’m capable of doing both.”
Wade was asked if this experience of rejoining the Heat feels old or new to him.
“It’s a new old feeling,” he said “To be 15 years in, to be 36 years of age and to feel like the new kid in class a few times over the last year and a half is definitely a little different.
“This is as close to normal as I’ve felt because it’s old, familiar. But it’s new because it’s different personnel, different ways of doing things in a small capacity, not big. But just trying to learn it because I have other systems and things in my mind from the other programs I’ve played in. It’s kind of new from that standpoint.”
He said it isn’t as simple as picking up where he left off with former teammates because of evolution of some of their games.
“I will continue to learn these guys,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. Even though I’ve played against a lot of these guys and even though I’ve played with some of these guys, time can change a little bit from the standpoint of guys like Tyler and Josh making a step up.These practices, these shootarounds, are the time we get comfortable with each other.
“Tyler and Josh are different players, especially J-Rich. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed watching from afar. And even more now that I’m up close, to see his confidence, and see how a lot of the offense is running around him with the ball with him. It definitely has been a cool experience to watch that.”
Wade never played with James Johnson before now but said, “last time I played against him, he wasn’t even playing that much from a standpoint of in Toronto, when I was in Miami, and now he’s here and has a bigger role. He’s a better player. It’s many different thing these guys do that I have to get used to and vice versa.”
• How has Wade’s game changed in the past 16 months?
“Shooting more threes but still not a lot. Outside of that, no.”
• Spoelstra said McGruder, out since October with a broken tibia, will not play in the Heat’s two games before the All-Star break (at Toronto Tuesday, at Philadelphia on Wednesday), and Olynyk (shoulder) won’t, either.
He did not know whether either would return immediately after the All-Star break, Feb. 23 at New Orleans.
Here’s my Tuesday post with what TNT’s Charles Barkley, Reggie Miller and Chris Webber are saying about the Heat’s acquisition of Dwyane Wade and Miami’s outlook.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz