It took a “special team roster addition” to get Dwyane Wade into the All-Star Game one final time.
While Heat president Pat Riley is grateful NBA commissioner Adam Silver made an exception and added a 13th All-Star roster spot to celebrate Dirk Nowitzki and Wade’s Hall of Fame careers, Riley also believes Wade deserved legitimate All-Star consideration based on a mixture of merit and nostalgia.
“My personal opinion is I think he deserved to be voted in,” Riley said. “I think probably, his performance coming off the bench is worthy of All-Star consideration. Now our record maybe hurt that somewhat and also the fact that he’s retiring, you set up in the minds in a lot of the voters that he’s not an All-Star anymore. Well, he has some of that in him. So I think he was a legitimate All-Star candidate.”
Whether you agree that Wade should have been voted into Sunday’s All-Star Game in Charlotte or not, it’s hard to argue he hasn’t been the Heat’s best bench player this season. In his 16th and final season before retiring, the 37-year-old Wade is averaging 14 points on 43.3 percent shooting, 3.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists as a reserve.
Those don’t look like numbers from a player who’s going to retire in a few months. And it’s prompted many, like Warriors All-Star guard Stephen Curry, to ask Wade one simple question: Are you sure you want to retire at the end of this season?
“Everybody has their own vision, their own path of how or when they walk away from the game,” Wade said. “But you can’t always control it. And I knock on wood that I stay healthy, and I can walk away the way I started this season. But that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I personally never wanted to walk away from the game when I absolutely had nothing left. I wanted to walk away when I felt it was time for me to walk away.
“It doesn’t mean my talent is depleted 100 percent. That just means that there’s something else for me to do.”
After taking on a bench role last season for the first time, Wade has found a niche for himself that works late in his career. Of the 154 NBA players who have played 30 or more games as a reserve this season, Wade ranks ninth in scoring and fourth in assists while playing 25.4 minutes per game.
“The role that I’m playing now, 25 minutes off the bench and doing the things I do, I can do that. I can do that for another two years if I wanted to,” Wade said. “But it’s not about that for me. Those moments feel good. Those moments let me know I can still play this game at that level.”
Wade, who was known for his relentless ability to get into the paint and score at the rim while keeping defenses off balance with his mid-range shot, has found different ways to be effective late in his career. With 54 made three-pointers on 167 attempts this season, he’s on pace to set a new career-high in threes made and attempted.
“It’s different,” Wade said. “I’m not zooming past nobody, I’m not jumping over nobody. I’m doing it different, but I’m still doing it.”
Does Wade ever think about continuing his playing career past this season, especially after a performance like the one he had against the Mavericks on Wednesday with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting?
“Absolutely not. I won’t even lie to you,” Wade said. “Coming into this year, I didn’t even know if I was going to even come back. Once I decided to come back, I thought about this long and hard. Once I decided to come back, I said, ‘This is my last one,’ and I have to make the decision. Once I did, I’ve been focused.”
Focused on helping the Heat in the role he’s in as a player and leader. But when this season is done, Wade is done and ready to spend more time with his family.
“He’s made a definitive decision,” Riley said. “… He’s soaking in every last ounce, every last moment, every last breath of his career and he’s doing it in spite of some tough losses and bad performances, and he’s doing it. And he’s not going to let anything get in the way of that moment, of a precious career with he and his family, his friends and his teammates. He’s made up his mind. He’s definitive about that. I kid him [about playing another season], but he laughs. That’s all. It’s not going to happen.
“Could he play again? Could he play another two, three, four years? Absolutely, I think he could. But I think he’s made a definitive decision.”
As for Sunday’s All-Star Game, Wade isn’t looking to do much on the court as a member of Team LeBron. He mentioned his only goal entering the game is to throw an alley-oop to LeBron James one final time.
Wade probably won’t take 27 shots like Michael Jordan did in 2003 in his final All-Star appearance. He’s taking a different approach.
“I just want to enjoy it. It’s the next generation’s game,” Wade said. “I’ve had my time to do all that. I’m not that guy that’s like, ‘Yo, I’m going to make this about me.’ It’s enough about me. There’s enough things that’s going to be about me.”