What do you want for Dwyane Wade this season, understanding that there aren’t many seasons left?
Oh, sure, a fourth NBA title would work just fine for the franchise’s most enduring star, but that’s not happening. Pretty tough figuring out how to get one win right now, much less a string of playoff series wins, even in the relatively weak East.
What, then, is realistic to hope for right now, in his 12th season in the league and in his 34th year on the planet?
I’m looking back at Dwyane’s rookie season, all the way back in 2003-04. It makes a pretty nice bookend for a discussion like this and in a few ways it kind of looks familiar.
Miami was bumping along at the season’s midpoint with no real reason to think a division title was coming and no guarantee of making the playoffs at all. It felt like a transition period, even with some pretty talented players on the team, just as it is today.
There was no 10-time all-star like Chris Bosh, but 6-foot-10 Lamar Odom was a pretty smooth operator for a guy in his fifth pro season. Odom averaged 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game that year. (Bosh scores a little more, rebounds a little less and brings the bonus of good three-point shooting).
Eddie Jones was a veteran guard who made a ton of three-balls for Miami, third-most in the league, during Wade’s rookie season. There was no defensive monster in the middle like Hassan Whiteside, but that 2003-04 Heat team had a scrappy rookie named Udonis Haslem, who put up numbers like rookie Justise Winslow does now. Brian Grant played good defense and grabbed rebounds, too, in the basic manner of Luol Deng today.
Then there was Wade. He had none of the polish as a rookie but so much raw energy and such a head for the game. The numbers aren’t as different as you might think.
As a rookie he averaged 16.2 points per game, shot 47 percent from the field and contributed 4.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game.
Jump ahead to this season and Wade is averaging around 18 points per game. His shooting percentage isn’t any better than it was in that debut season and his assists are pretty much the same. The steals are down just a bit.
Anyway, with Pat Riley looking on from the office and leaving the coaching to Stan Van Gundy, Miami finished 42-40 in Wade’s rookie season. That was good for a No. 4 playoff seed in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.
Next came a seven-game win over the New Orleans Hornets in the opening round, with Wade hitting a 10-foot runner with 1.3 seconds remaining to make his first career playoff game a winner.
Then there was a match with top-seeded Indiana in the conference semifinals. That didn’t go so well. The Pacers won it in six. Still, Wade led the Heat in scoring in the series with 21 points per game and kept it interesting.
It was enough to get Riley busy again, trading away Odom and Grant and Caron Butler to get Shaquille O’Neal and start ramping up for a title run. Who knows what Riley might be working on this offseason to reel in a big free agent as a supplement for Bosh and Wade?
So that’s my most optimistic picture of what could happen for Wade this year, a mid-range playoff seed, a first-round series win and a rumble of an effort in the Eastern semifinals that ultimately falls short.
Not entirely realistic, perhaps, the way Miami is playing and the way the roster has been shredded of late. Wade’s shoulder problems are a part of that. Get some guys back from injuries and it can get better, though how much better than 42-40 is just a guess.
If you see a deeper run in the playoffs, it’s probably just a little of that Dwyane Wade love bubbling up. He’s done so much for the Heat. To think of it slowing down or even stopping is more than most of us are in the mood to do.