Will the Heat's potential salary-cap flexibility be handcuffed by the declining superstar who missed more than a third of the season, with many of the absences forcing coach Erik Spoelstra to scramble through 21 different lineups en route to the team's worst record since 2009?
Or should Wade be measured as a player who increased his production across the board over each round of the playoffs and appears poised to peak in the Finals? Team president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison must grapple with those questions when the Heat are done battling the Spurs.
Wade is certain he has the answer.
"For people to be so quick to want to split us up, it's crazy," Wade said. "Some of it comes with the collective bargaining agreement and how the NBA works differently nowadays. But it's a sexy story to talk about LeBron James leaving Miami, you know what I mean? I'm 32 years old. Once someone comes to expect something of someone or they don't feel that they're living up to that or they're not doing what's expected, they immediately say that it's over for him. Why is it over? It's over if you can't play the game no more. I have no reason to feel I can't play at this level for more [years] to come."
Riley has repeatedly said his intention is to keep Wade, James and Bosh together for a decade, much like a San Antonio Spurs team that has won four titles and remained in championship contention the past 15 years, with Tim Duncan surrounded by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili most of that time.
Arison told a Miami radio station last month that he was "100 percent" confident Wade, James and Bosh would be back next season and has historically shown a willingness to pay the NBA's punitive luxury tax on excessive team salaries as long as the Heat were competing for championships.
Although Wade has expressed his desire to retire with the only NBA team for which he's ever played and Bosh has said he'll definitely stay with the Heat and would consider a lower salary if necessary, James has not voiced his commitment as strongly this season.
Contractually, Wade, James and Bosh aren't obligated to do anything and could simply bypass their options and roll over into their 2014-15 salaries -- each in excess of $20 million -- but with Wade continuing to earn slightly less than his star teammates based on the original deals they signed.
But, unlike four years ago, when James, Wade and Bosh were all under age 30 and in their athletic and productive prime, the three are at three uniquely different stages of their careers. And the 2011 NBA lockout coming a year after they signed produced a far more restrictive collective bargaining with stiffer luxury-tax penalties that make it more difficult to build teams around three maximum-salary players.
James, 29, might be reluctant to opt out and lock himself this summer into a max deal worth about $120 million over five years without knowing how much longer Wade can play at an elite level or at what point Riley, 69, might decide to retire. It's also expected that James will get a max deal at any point he wants over the next two seasons.