In Order to Keep Wade, Heat Must Improve Now


Jul 20, 2009

In Order to Keep Wade, Heat Must Improve Now "I'm going to listen. I owe the Miami Heat that much. I'm going to listen to what they have to say and I'm going to think about it. But right now, the way I feel, I want to make sure that we're on track to where I want us to be on track to before I sign back."

That was Dwyane Wade two weeks ago Monday.

Wade, who was the biggest basketball star in the world at this time three years ago, has told Pat Riley that he wants the Miami Heat competing to reach the top of the basketball world again. If they don't, the implication is that Wade will be gone by the summer of 2010. He'll find more money, more fame and more wins elsewhere.

Wade and Riley have won it all before. In 2006, they shocked the world by rattling off four straight wins against the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, battling back from down 0-2 to win a championship. Wade was only 24, but he was the leader behind it all. That series vaulted him over Kobe Bryant, over LeBron James, over everything. At that moment, he was king.

Wade learned that that superstardom was fleeting.

It always is.

As quickly as Wade fell from fame, he has a chance to climb back up. Much like Vinny Chase in Gatsby, he can be bigger than ever.

Especially in the Eastern Conference, it doesn't take much to hop back into contention. People quickly forget that even in '06, when the Heat won it all, they were only 52-game winners in the regular season. It took a monumental upset of Detroit in the Eastern Conference playoffs for the Heat to even make the finals.

Likewise, the Heat aren't about to be the best team in the Eastern Conference anytime soon. That title belongs to the Celtics or Cavaliers. But this Miami team isn't far from being in the conversation — and in turn, it might not be far from keeping Wade happy enough to stay in South Beach.

Wade himself made an explosive comeback last season to place himself among the NBA's elite, scoring 30.2 points per game to lead the league for the first time in his career. But this is far from a one-man team in Miami.

Jermaine O'Neal, at 30 years old, is still one of the game's premier one-on-one defenders at the center position. In an Eastern Conference dominated by men like Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal, that's obviously a huge asset. He also brings some versatility as a scorer. While he's not a high-percentage shooter, he's a threat from anywhere on the floor and scored 13.0 points per game after being traded to Miami last year.

By taking Michael Beasley second and Mario Chalmers 34th in the 2008 draft, Riley basically outsmarted the NBA's other 29 GMs. Chalmers is a solid NBA-ready starting point guard; Beasley is an explosive scorer who averaged 13.9 points per game as a rookie despite limited scoring opportunities with Wade carrying the offense.

Do the math. This team has a one (Chalmers), a two (Wade), a four (Beasley) and a five (O'Neal). It needs one more forward to be a true contender.

Rumor has it there are two options — one is Lamar Odom, a former Laker currently exploring free agency, and the other is Carlos Boozer, under contract with Utah but seeking a trade.

Either one would be a huge, huge boost to a Heat team that isn't far away from title contention. This team won 43 games last season and earned the No. 5 seed in the East playoffs. It wouldn't take much to leapfrog a couple teams and jump into elite class.

Their neighbors to the north, the Magic, have lost three-fifths of their starting five and brought in only an aging Vince Carter to replace them. The Hawks only won 47 last year and have done nothing to improve. With one big signing, the Heat will be one of the top three teams in the East.

In the NBA, where one great talent can be a game-changer, there's nothing more important than keeping your superstar happy. The Heat have a chance to do that this summer — but they could also accomplish much more. They're not far off.

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