"That's for sure," James told ESPN.com. "But when it's all said and done, [critics] will realize what he's been able to accomplish. He's one of the best 2-guards to ever play the game, and he's going to be one of the best wing players to ever play the game. Look at his numbers, his accomplishments, Finals MVP, possible chance to win a fourth ring, MVP of All-Star Game, multiple All-Star Games, Olympian. Obviously, the list goes on. You can't find too many résumés like that."
Those closest to Wade don't believe he's done adding to it.
"Tell people Dwyane is a fresh, young 32 years old. He's not old," Bosh said recently. "I don't know why people keep acting like he's 47 out there playing. You'd think it's [Heat assistant Bob] McAdoo out there playing or something. He's 32 in the prime in his career. He's good. We can rely on him. He's our guy."
There are questions around the league about the Heat's ability to sustain this roster and add quality pieces with two top-salary, supporting-cast players in their 30s surrounding James. But Wade is trying to ward off some of those doubts with a strong finish to a turbulent season.
"From the outside looking in, all you can say right now is that it's worked," a rival Eastern conference executive said of Wade entering the Finals. "They had a plan with him, and only they knew exactly what they were dealing with day to day. If that's what it takes during the season to get the player you're seeing right now, then it's worth it. You trust it. You find a way to ease the load in January and you evaluate those guys based on April, May and June."
If that's the case, then a late-spring Wade is a spry Wade, and, barring a setback these next couple of weeks, Wade will enter the summer for the first time in three years without needing surgery or a major procedure.
He certainly doesn't sound like a player eager to opt out of $42 million.
There's no precedent of an elite NBA player pushing away from that kind of money. Riley has long held Wade in the same regard as Lakers treasure Kobe Bryant, who at 35 signed a two-year extension worth $48.5 million midway through an injury-riddled season.
Cases have been made that Duncan and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Garnett took less money on recent contracts that allowed their teams to add quality free agents or improve cap or luxury-tax standings. But the difference is that Duncan and Garnett had already played out the full length of previous top-dollar contracts before they respectively signed new, cap-friendly deals in 2012.
The closest example to Wade's potential scenario can be traced to the summer of 2010, when 30-year-old Richard Jefferson opted out of $15 million on the final year of his contract with the Spurs. He then re-signed a four-year, $39 million contract that reduced his 2010-11 salary from $15 million to $8 million. It also helped San Antonio sign Tiago Splitter and reportedly save $17 million in overall salary and potential luxury-tax penalties.
When Wade was told about speculation earlier this season among some league analysts that he might consider retiring after this season if he won his fourth title, he jerked his head back and frowned.
"I'd be a damn fool," Wade shot back. "I'm not retiring no time soon, so if that's what people are waiting on, that's stupid."