The Miami Heat defeated the Boston Celtics 93-86 Tuesday night, after playing without Dwyane Wade once again. Last night was Wade's third consecutive missed game, and his 12th missed game this season.
Wade's knee issues have been around for the past couple of years, but this season the training staff has been more proactive in trying to keep Wade healthy. Following their win against the Celtics on Tuesday, LeBron said that it has been difficult establishing rhythm and chemistry with Wade's status being uncertain from game to game.
So far in January, the Heat are just 6-5. Despite this meager record, the Heat are still 30-12, and are currently the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference, close behind the Indiana Pacers. Although Ray Allen has said that there is no concern because he is not injured, many are not ready to jump on board and completely believe that.
There has been much debate about whether or not the Miami Heat should be concerned for their championship hopes this year because of Wade's health. There is no doubt that the Heat will land either the first or second seed in the east, but their playoff success depends on Wade's knees. If Wade's knees allow him to perform at close to 100%, then the Heat will be a favorite to get their third straight championship.
As this season progresses, there is still something the Heat have that will help them in managing Wade's health. The teammates have a great understanding of how huge Wade's importance is to the team when he is healthy. There is not much reason to push Wade in January, when the Heat will need him most in May and June. His teammates will take the burden, but it's a short term burden they'll take on that may pay off in the post-season.
What could Wade's health mean for the Heat's off-season plans?
On Wade's 32nd birthday, LeBron made a statement to him that was almost foreshadowing, but then again, maybe not. LeBron said "No matter what happens in the future we stuck together like brothers for life." This post on Instagram stirred up lots of discussion and speculation about the meaning behind it, and what the free agency holds for him.
Dwyane Wade's knees are going to be a major factor in the upcoming decision by LeBron on if he will stay with Miami, or go somewhere else in search of more rings. Best case scenario: Wade's health is watched and managed well enough to keep him healthy enough to contribute in the playoffs like the Wade we all know and love. If that happens, that would increase the chances that LeBron resigns to Miami. Worst case scenario: Wade's knees are constantly an issue, and his future health is not certain, which would be an easy reason for LeBron to leave.
No matter what, Wade's health will be an issue that will have an impact on how the Heat's front office handles the off-season. The Heat could try to get Wade to take a pay cut. It would give the Heat more cap flexibility, and would allow the front office to try to add a few more pieces. The fact is that there are too many questions that will not be answered until this off-season. The front office and Dwyane Wade will likely try to convince LeBron that Wade is healthy, and that they can still add talent around the team to continue their search for more championships.
Another factor that may become relevant is Dwyane Wade made a comment that if LeBron left, it could factor in him deciding to retire. If LeBron leaves due to free agency, and Wade decides to retire, the Miami Heat would be left with Chris Bosh, and a lot of salary cap space. Or Wade could decide that he still has years left in his tank, and play out the remainder of his contract.
Father time has not been kind to Dwyane Wade. Wade's playing style is not suited for a man with knee issues, and that will probably be in the back of LeBron's head when is making his decision this summer. James is a student of the game, and is well aware of his career from a historical perspective. James came to Miami because championships were the highest priority for him, and this off-season will be no different.
LeBron's quest to become the greatest basketball player of all time is his highest motivation. His quest to become the greatest will be greatly helped by adding more rings to his collection. But it doesn't stop there; LeBron would need the individual stats and awards to add to his legacy. Unfortunately, LeBron will have little chance to get another ring in Miami if Wade is unhealthy, which is why they're resting him so often.
The Heat will have a limited amount of options. This season they are trying to complete the three peat, but to do that, they need to rest Wade to have him healthy for the playoffs. That is pretty much all that the Heat can control. Once the off-season hits, LeBron will choose what is best for him. That decision could keep the Heat in the discussion as championship contenders for a while, or the decision would leave the Heat facing a rebuilding process. Whether Wade will publicly admit it or not, the pressure is on him to prove to LeBron he is still LeBron's best bet for championships. The Miami front office and the fans will have a very stressful time leading up to the free agency, because the Big Three will either stay intact, or will break apart. Miami can only hope for the best.