Dwyane Wade reflects on Chris Paul, opportunities missed

They raised a toast together in the Bahamas in July then splashed through the start of their offseason on a banana boat.

For Dwyane Wade, there are plenty of meaningful bonds with Chris Paul, including their enduring friendships with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

But there also is one factor, amid their shared basketball brilliance, that separates the two: Wade has spent much of his NBA career in the NBA's Final Four, the conference finals.

Just as LeBron has taken residence there. And as Carmelo even made it in 2009 with the Denver Nuggets against the Los Angeles Lakers.

And then there is Paul, arguably the best player in the NBA yet to reach even that height, let alone the five NBA Finals that have featured Wade.

Wade was asked about being close to someone who hasn't been able to get all that close to championship contention in his 11 seasons.

"Yeah, it's tough, man," Wade said. "Obviously when you first come in the league, young, and you play seven, eight years, most guys might not get a chance for that championship in those first couple of years. You're establishing yourself in the league, you're becoming a young star in this league, and that's what you're consumed with."

But Paul now is 30, would be 31 if his Clippers finally make that playoff breakthrough to the West finals.

"You get to 30 years old," Wade said, "and now you start looking around and you're like, 'I haven't been here.' 'I haven't done that.' Now you start worrying sometimes."

And yet, Wade said, the respect with Paul has been such that there is an appreciation of how much more difficult those five NBA Finals appearances might have been with Paul on the other side.

"Obviously, I've wanted to win championships," Wade said. "We've been in there five times, so I can't say, 'Oh, I want Chris and 'Melo to get a ring,' because then maybe sometimes that'd mean I wouldn't."

Twice in his career Paul has lost a Game 7 that would have advanced his team to the Western Conference finals, first with the New Orleans Hornets in 2008 against the San Antonio Spurs, then with the Clippers last season against the Houston Rockets.

By then, Wade was well into last season's vacation, able to pull for his friend in the West without having to consider personal ramifications.

"You want to see your friends have success," Wade said. "And Chris is a winner. So he's a guy that you want to see him have the success, at least get an opportunity in that Western Conference, to compete for it."

Eventually, Paul and James and their wives joined the Wades and Anthonys for their Caribbean getaway, Paul seated between Wade and James amid the silliness of that bouncing banana boat.

What wasn't discussed amid raises glasses and salt-water splashes was that bite of the apple that Paul has yet to take, the one that puts you one step from possibly sipping champagne.

"I've been fortunate enough to take that bite," Wade said of making the conference finals in more than a third of his seasons. "But from afar, I would think how much that had to hurt for Chris, especially knowing how much of a competitor that he is.

"He's not a guy who's necessarily worried about being top in assists all-time, or being a scorer. He's a winner and it hurts him not to win more than a lot of guys I've been around. So I'm sure it does. But he's not every going to stop trying to get there."