Dwyane Wade's final chapter begins


Let's see if we can summarize Dwyane Wade's four years as LeBron James' teammate into a few paragraphs:

Wade was routinely credited for bringing the Big Three together in 2010, then could've won his second NBA Finals MVP nine months later if he'd had a little more help (he averaged 26.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.5 blocks and shot 54.6 percent from the floor in the six games against Dallas in 2011).

The next season, Wade willingly handed full control of the team to LeBron, then played through pain, but still won his second title.

On the way to his third championship, Wade was labeled a dirty player and unreliable and again played through a problematic knee to do just enough to win a title.

This past season, Wade was on a maintenance program that allowed him to play only 54 games, which quietly annoyed James. Then in a reversal of their first NBA Finals together, Wade couldn't do enough to help LeBron against the San Antonio Spurs, picking an inopportune time to go a combined 7-of-25 for 21 points in Games 4 and 5.

And in his final official act as LeBron's teammate, Wade opted out of his contract in the hopes of keeping LeBron as his teammate. Turns out Wade lost those $42 million guaranteed for nothing.

Yet Wade took the expected high road in wishing James well in his return to Cleveland.

"As a friend and a teammate, I am sad to see my brother LeBron leave to begin a new journey," Wade said in a statement. "We shared something unique and he will always be part of my family. LeBron made the right decision for himself and his family because home is where your heart is.

"As an organization, a community, and as individuals, we achieved the goals we set when we first signed on together. We are champions."

No one said winning championships was easy, but Wade took quite the beating in his four years chasing rings with LeBron, both physically and in the public eye. He's perceived now as being washed up at 32, this despite shooting a career-best 54.5 percent when he did play in the regular season, and 50 percent from the floor in the postseason.

But don't expect Wade to live down to these diminished expectations.

His biggest challenge, of course, will be playing a full season without breaking down, something he hasn't truly been able to do since the 2010-11 season.

Wade, however, spent time this past season picking Ray Allen's brain about how best to extend his career, including nutrition. That would help explain this Instagram post in late June of a healthy meal with the comment "Day 1 of the new challenge," with Allen and James both tagged on the post. At the time, Wade didn't know James would no longer be his teammate. But the challenge of getting leaner and lighter to take pressure off his knees actually takes on more importance now.

Wade will no longer have the luxury of sitting out games knowing the best player in the league would be doing the heavy lifting. He's back in position of being the Miami Heat's most important perimeter player, and his challenge now includes taking on a heavier workload again, potentially playing through more discomfort than he had to last season, and most important, trying to keep the Heat among the elite in the NBA.

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