Dwyane Wade's decline is the Heat's biggest problem

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Dwyane Wade's fall from grace, which culminated in a paltry performance in the NBA Finals, has put the Miami Heat in a tough spot. The best person to get the Heat out of it is Wade himself.

Dwyane Wade is one of the five greatest shooting guards in NBA history. If you pressed me hard enough, I could even co-sign the thought of him being the third-best of all time. His Hall of Fame credentials are certified and there's nothing else you could ask for from the face of a franchise. D-Wade's done it all for the Miami Heat.

But the writing was clearly displayed on the wall during Game 5 of the NBA Finals versus the San Antonio Spurs. Or should I say, it was pinned on the backboard by Tiago Splitter.

This wasn't the first sign of a decline in Wade's play. It'd been happening for the better part of the last two seasons. But it was nevertheless striking how much the Spurs did to magnify the deterioration in Wade's game. Someone was able to put together 12 minutes of defensive mediocrity of how bad Wade had been on defense through four games, for goodness' sake.

In five games, the Miami Heat were thoroughly dismantled, and Wade did hardly anything to move the needle. In fact, you could easily say Miami would've been better off without him. Wade accrued a plus/minus rating of -54 in five NBA Finals games while averaging just 15.2 points per game versus the now five-time NBA champion Spurs. He was no longer the guy out on the court. At best, he was just a guy. A guy incapable of making a difference on either end of the court, as the miles on his body and his knees rendered him useless.

It seems implausible we'd be at this point with Wade just 11 years into his career. This is the guy with a phenomenal resume coming out of college. This is the guy who excelled as a rookie and turned into a golden boy with a 1,000-kilowatt smile and motor that never shut off. Three years into his career, he put on arguably the greatest series performance in NBA Finals history and brought the Heat their first title. Add in a gold medal, a smoking hot actress for a fiancee and being presented as a candidate for daddy of the year, and Dwyane Wade was officially on Teflon Don status.

This was all before LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.

Initially, Wade's Teflon coat got stronger. When things initially went bad in Miami, LeBron caught all the flak. Start off the first season 9-8? LeBron's fault. Lose in the 2011 NBA Finals? LeBron's fault. When Wade did chip in and take over at times, it offered a reminder that this was Wade's team. Wade was showing LeBron how to win. Wade was the mastermind who made all of this possible. It was easy to drink the Kool-Aid, even if none of it carried any merit. Even when Miami started winning titles, Dwyane always would have one more title than LeBron. This was just enough of a reminder that he was here first.

But we all knew the truth: it was LeBron who would soon carry Wade, not the other way around.

Not playing for a third of the regular season didn't help matters. Neither does Wade carrying out the same style that better suited him five years prior instead of evolving. Miami is definitively LeBron's team, with Wade serving as the King's superhero sidekick who was rapidly losing his powers. An inability to finish at the rim, along with the lack of a three-point shot and, of course, that defense, makes for a poor combination for the guy formerly known as Flash.

Nowadays, the only thing Wade flashes are the flopping tactics he uses.

There's plenty of blame to pass around for Miami's Finals loss, but the majority of it has to fall on Wade. He was the key player who came up short.

And now he's Miami's biggest challenge as the questions about the Heat's future arrive at their doorstep. Will the current Big Three re-sign and make another run at a title? Will any of them (*cough LeBron cough*) opt out and pave their own way, either this year or in 2014-15? Will Wade be willing to sacrifice future earnings for the greater good of the organization, or will he be the albatross that holds the franchise back as it tries to retool around LeBron?

The silver lining in all of this: Wade is the man who can fix this dilemma. If it's taking a pay cut that makes the difference in keeping the core together, he could do it, though early indications are that Wade has little interest in this route. If it takes refining his game to possibly be a sixth man on the team, giving the team more depth and saving those weary knees in the process, he could do it. If he wants to show he's the true mastermind of bringing the people together in South Beach and recruit free-agent reinforcements for future runs, he could do it.

All eyes will always be on No. 6, but the man who'll determine Miami's future is actually wearing No. 3.


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