What’s Dwyane Wade’s Role-Player Ceiling?

It’s time to stop asking if Dwyane Wade can get back on track in time to win his third championship ring. He can’t.

The fact that many celebrated Wade putting up 11 less points than LeBron James in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals – with just one fewer field goal attempt – said it all. That the Heat went out of their way to feed Wade and nurse his bruised ego, got 21 points from that coddling and were thrilled for each one of them, tells you where he is as a scorer.

But scoring isn’t what we should measure Wade by at this point. That was once his job, but it shouldn’t be now. With his body worn down from a decade in the NBA and his perimeter shot still iffy, it’s time for a shift in his priorities.

For the Heat to repeat as champions, on the fly, Dwyane Wade has to turn into Scottie Pippen. If you think it’s easy to morph into Scottie, the most spectacular glue guy of his day, between series, show me someone who’s ever done it.

This isn’t like Nate Archibald signing with the Celtics the same year they drafted Larry Bird and dialing back his game to fit in with a new team. Wade’s situation isn’t like when David Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, more than a decade after each was drafted, saw the No. 1 pick in the draft join the roster and realized the future was on the way. Wade posted the fourth-highest usage percentage of all-time in 2009, was still one of the five best players in the league in 2010, the closer and co-lead dog in 2011 and a superstar in 2012. In 2013, still in what seemed to be the prime of his career, his body betrayed him and, ultimately, he was demoted.

That doesn’t mean it’s time for Wade to fall back. He actually has to step up.

Being Pippen isn’t simply being his team’s second-best player. It’s being responsible for making a consistent impact in every way but scoring. It’s all Miami can hope for when Wade’s too hurt to consistently make jumpers or get to the free throw line; when he’s averaging 14.7 points per 36 minutes in a seven-game series and Udonis Haslem puts up 11.9.

Many thought Miami had more riches than it deserved – it actually has just as many holes. The Heat have no point guard, rebounder or post scorer. Well, other than LeBron. But Erik Spoelstra can’t ask him to do any more. And, even when hobbled, who does the Heat have to fill those aforementioned holes better than Wade? He was their second-leading rebounder against the Pacers, second in assists and still cagey enough to score in tight spaces.

Miami was fantastic in Game 3, when Wade was a great distributor and tallied eight assists. They were dominant when Wade cleaned the glass in Game 7, leading the team with nine rebounds. There’s plenty for him to do, but none of that will get done because Wade gave his spin on Pau Gasol’s annual “Hey, what about me?” speech.

Wade is in a tricky place. He already sacrificed years of his prime to accommodate Pat Riley’s vision of stripping the roster down to reel in the biggest free agent haul in history. He’s watched his friend, James, become the biggest star in what was – and, in many ways, remains – his city. Now, he’s watching his time as a bona fide superstar end while James needs his help the most, and there are no more than seven games to figure out how to help his team without being the player he was.

There’s no offseason for him to recalibrate his game. He’s got to do it now, with not just the season on the line. For the next week and change, Pat Riley’s ambitious experiment to cook up a sustainable dynasty in microwave time will be juxtaposed against the Spurs’ slow-roasting steadiness. And unless Wade can do what Robinson did for Gregg Popovich in 1999 and 2003 – become an overqualified, highly effective role player – the notion of the “Big 3” will be finished forever.

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