LeBron James, Dwyane Wade

How long can Dwayne Wade remain among the group of elite players in the NBA? That might be the biggest question connected to the future of the Miami Heat and especially LeBron James, who has a chance to become a free agent at the end of next season, and his decision, which will be less extravagant this time, directly depends on the health and ability of his co-star.

Chris Bosh? He’s important as well, maybe just as Wade, but there’s a good chance the Miami Heat are less worried about him. His offense might have taken a hit during last postseason, but the Miami Heat are galvanized by his presence and defending, not necessarily his scoring. His presence on the floor is enough to stretch and bring out big men, and he doesn’t have to score 18-20 points a night to make his participation worthwhile.

Wade? That’s something else. In the series against the Indiana Pacers it felt like all the talk about Wade hitting that ‘old’ stage in an NBA’s player career has finally come. His knee kept bothering him, and there was no end to the pain in sight. Rest, like Wade and the coaching staff kept mentioning, wasn’t the answer to his woes.

Wade proved all those rumors wrong in the final four games of the finals, averaging 23.5 points per game, including 32 in game 4 and 23 points in the final game, as the Spurs wouldn’t change their defensive approach to both Wade and James, allowing them to keep hitting mid-range jumpers undisturbed, which was probably the best approach of the ‘pick your poison’ school.

Dwyane Wade, LeBron James

And yet there are plenty of question about Wade’s ability to hold up through another season and then perform in a high-enough level in the postseason. He has missed, due to injury or simply extended rest, 30 regular season games over the last couple of seasons. That hasn’t hurt the Heat too much during that time, obviously, but at some point his absence will be too much of a toll on James, Bosh and the other players, who haven’t gotten any big additions this offseason, instead simply keeping hold of what they had and omitting Mike Miller.

As long as James is on the team, even 80% of Wade is enough to remain title contenders. Bosh usually steps up and reminds everyone of why he is an NBA All-Star, but even for LeBron, who will be turning 29 in a few months, taking that kind of load on his shoulders to replace the one he had before winning the two NBA titles might be getting a bit too much to handle. The Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls aren’t to be underestimated, and even the Brooklyn Nets might have a one-year window of challenging for the Eastern crown.

The entire thing built by Pat Riley can unfold in one summer, even if the Miami Heat win a third consecutive NBA title. James, Wade and Bosh can opt out of their contracts, although James is the only one who’ll get another Max deal on his next team. Regardless of how good he’ll be next season, and chances are it’ll be MVP-good as he’s been for the past five seasons, the key to his future and the identity of his next team is going to be in the hands of Dwyane Wade and his banged up knees.

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