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Dwyane Wade's struggles help sink Miami Heat in NBA Finals vs. San Antonio Spurs

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie
Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) wipes his face in the final moments at Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals on Sunday, June 15, 2014, in San Antonio. The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA championship 104-87
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Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3) wipes his face in the final moments at Game 5 of the NBA basketball finals on Sunday, June 15, 2014, in San Antonio. The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA championship 104-87. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

After the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in last June's NBA Finals, the two-time defending champs decided to come up with a plan to maximize the remaining talents of aging star Dwyane Wade. Over the 2013-14 season, Wade sat on the second nights of back-to-backs and took various other rests, ultimately playing in only 54 games at 32.9 minutes per contest at 19.0 points per game, his first campaign under the 20-ppg mark since his rookie year. Wade took on less regular-season responsibility than ever under the calculated risk that he would play at a superior level when it mattered most.

If success in the NBA Finals served as the final referendum on this plan, then we can safely say that Wade did not see his best-case scenario. In Miami's five-game defeat at the hands of the Spurs, Wade averaged 15.2 points on 43.8 percent shooting, 3.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 3.6 turnovers. He was at his worst in Games 4 and 5, shooting 6 of 24 from the field as the Heat saw a chance at a third straight title slip away. By at least one advanced metric, he was the worst player in the NBA Finals:

The eye test may have rated him as even worse. Throughout the series, Wade looked like a shadow of his former athletic and energetic self, regularly settling for jumpers and getting to spots more slowly than we've come to expect from such an accomplished player. With Wade struggling, the Heat looked even more dependent on LeBron James than usual, essentially requiring 48 minutes of dominance every time out to beat a team as formidable as the Spurs. It's possible this challenge would have been unlikely even with Wade performing at his current best, but his struggles made it impossible.

We can't say the Heat's plan for Wade failed, because we don't know what alternate reality may have occurred if he had played a full slate of games this season. Regardless, it seems clear Wade cannot be counted on for the same level of production he has displayed throughout his career. One of the best players of his generation no longer looks to be near the top of the NBA's hierarchy. He also appears to require a rethinking of the kind of player he can and should be.

Wade, for his part, said in his postgame press conference that he was plenty healthy for the series. He also posted his thoughts on the future to Instagram after the Game 5 loss:

Despite clear cause for concern, Wade remains an effective player for a franchise that figures to be in title contention for as long as LeBron James dons one of its uniforms. However, with each of the Heat's Big Three able to opt out this summer and the team clearly needing new talent, it's unclear if Wade is ready and willing to accept a warranted pay cut (and the attendant dip in reputation) to ensure that Miami is in the best possible position to reach a fifth consecutive NBA Finals.

These issues will be decided over the next few weeks. With the Heat's Game 5 loss still fresh in our minds, we can be sure of relatively little — Wade is not the player he once was, he likely can't be saved by rest and the Heat have some tough decisions to make regarding their mutual future.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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