When Dwyane Wade agreed to sign with the Chicago Bulls earlier in July, he didn't exactly fit the front office's objective of making the team "younger" and "more athletic." Wade is set to turn 35 years old next January, and admits that at this stage of his career he has to play more of an "old-man's game" to compensate for his declining speed and overall athleticism.
On top of this, there's the narrative that Wade has long been an unhealthy and injury-prone player, and that this problem will continue to compound as he approaches the twilight of his career. Then again, if you paid attention last season, you'd know well that Dwyane Wade is far from finished:
Up to the end of the 2014-15 NBA season, Wade's future ability to consistently stay on the court while sustaining an all-star level of play was up for justifiable speculation. In addition to undergoing knee and shoulder surgeries early on in his career, Wade failed to play in 70 games for a single season for four straight years following the Miami Heat's loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. The Heat's four straight trips to the Finals during six consecutive years of making the playoffs also significantly reduced Wade's offseason rehab and recovery time from multiple lingering injuries:
From 2012 to 2014, those years were so hard for me. I felt like my body was betraying me -- out of nowhere, there was so much pain in my knee. Anytime I made a move, and I mean like a step or a walk, any move was painful. I remember just thinking at one point, 'What have I done to deserve this?' This is something that's very important to my sport, my career and my future. And it got to a point where I was thinking, 'Man, do I want to continue to feel all this pain?' I felt like my body was betraying me. It was every game, it was every day, literally. During drills in practice one day, I thought, 'Nobody in this gym knows how much pain I'm in right now.' It hurt to run, stop, plant, and it's killing me. But I didn't let people know. I didn't use no excuse. I just tried to do my therapy to fight through it." --ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2016
In that sense, the Heat narrowly missing the playoffs the season following LeBron James' departure became a blessing in disguise for Dwyane Wade, something he admitted himself when he said, "I ain't going to lie to you, I was happy. Once we weren't good enough and knew we weren't going to win a championship, I didn't really care about making it to the first round, just to say we made it. I enjoyed knowing we were going to have a long summer to focus on my body, so it was good for us."
With an additional span of nearly two and a half months to get his health in order (for the first time in seven years), Wade made a concentrated effort to put a positive spin on the narrative about his health. After ending a thirteen year professional relationship with Chicago-based trainer Tim Grover, Wade opted to train with David Alexander, the longtime personal trainer of LeBron James. Thanks to an emphasis on resistance and stretching-based programs to strengthen his core, Wade reported to training camp this past season leaner and without the need for any ongoing injury rehab.
The results manifested themselves on the court almost immediately. Wade played in 38 contests to open the season before missing any games due to rest or injury, which was his best stretch since the 2009-10 season. He never missed more than two consecutive games for the remainder of the year on his way to playing in 74 out of 82 regular season contests. Playing just over 30 minutes per game, Wade was one of the only players across the association with a PER greater than 20 that also posted a usage rate greater than 30. The only other player over 30 years of age to accomplish that last season was LeBron James.
A month ago, Wade said body-wise he felt as though he were 28 years old. Midway through the past season, he said his realistic goal was playing somewhere in the ballpark of 70 games. Personally, I'm starting to think that the nickname "Father Prime" may be more than just a clever replacement for "Flash." Wade appears to be healthier than he has been for quite some time as he prepares for the next chapter of his career with the Bulls, and I can only hope/imagine that the arrival of Chip Schaefer will help an aging Wade continue to work wonders. I don't see any reason why Wade can't play in at least 70 games once again next season, which will be critical towards developing much-needed chemistry with his new teammates in Chicago. If he does, there's no cause to believe yet another all-star appearance isn't in the cards.
"I never envisioned that I would be playing this long. I think I always told myself that my body would tell me, 'Hey, I gave you enough, it's time.' So whenever my body tells me that, I'll listen to it and then I'll make that decision. But nah, I'm not there yet. I've got some good years left." --Dwyane Wade