Reinventing Wade: At 36, another new role awaits Heat great

Credit: Wilfredo Lee

Credit: Wilfredo Lee

This is not the first reinvention of Dwyane Wade

Or the second.

Or the third.

His 15 NBA seasons have been a series of role changes — the latest being where the most celebrated player in Miami Heat history watches five younger players start games while he waits for a chance to enter as a sub. But nearly a month after the trade that brought him back to the Heat, Wade has zero complaints.

"The finished product of Dwyane, you guys have seen me win three championships and all that," Wade said. "But I've had so many different roles in my life in playing basketball. I came off the bench for a long time before y'all knew who I was. My ego is not too big at this point. I'm 36 years old. These guys are the future of this organization and this team. I'm definitely not the future. I'm cool with that."

Still, he's vital to Miami's hopes right now.

Wade is clearly going to play a sizable role in the Heat playoff push, in all sorts of ways. The savvy veteran who can be a de facto assistant coach in the locker room, on the practice floor and on the bench.

The guy who makes crowds in Miami roar simply by removing his warmups and walking to the scorer's table to check into games. The closer, who'll be on the floor in the most critical minutes of games.

He's just not starting.

"I started embracing it when I was at the previous team, because I'm a winner," Wade said. "I'm always about doing whatever I can to help whatever team I'm on be in its best position. I've done that my whole life. It's not just now. I've done it in the Olympics, I've done it all over the place. It takes nothing away from who I am or what I've accomplished."

Before now, the last season that Wade played and wasn't a full-time starter was the summer of 2008 — on the U.S. Olympic team at the Beijing Games, where he was the leading scorer on the way to a gold medal. Prior to that, he thinks it was his fourth-grade team.

"It really is similar to the role he had with the USA team," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "He'd come in and be a force of nature."

There have been some signature moments already in his second stint with the Heat. Wade's winner against Philadelphia last week was the 12th of his career. In the first 29 seasons of Heat basketball, only two players posted consecutive 25-point games off the bench. Wade is already the third name on that list.

At home against Detroit on Saturday, he was serenaded with "M-V-P" and "We Want Wade" chants.

"The guy is just a great player," said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, Wade's first coach with the Heat in 2003. "Has been since he walked into the league. To still be doing what he's done these last few games at this point in his career is pretty impressive. But he's back home. He's back home. I think he probably feels that."

Wade agrees, saying the return has been an energy boost.

It has also been emotional, as South Florida tries to recover from last month's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High that left 17 people dead — including a boy whose parents chose to bury him in a Wade jersey. Wade met with the family of that teen, Heat fan Joaquin Oliver, on Saturday night .

"It's bigger than basketball," Wade said.

It's also just like old times, albeit in a new role.

"The thing about Dwyane, he's probably adapted and evolved and changed his role as much as any star player in this game," Spoelstra said. "That is part of his brilliance. He figures things out."

He's done that since Day 1 in Miami.

Wade — one of the greatest shooting guards to play the game — was drafted by Miami as a point guard. He became a superstar shooting guard and NBA Finals MVP, a league scoring champion and absolute first option in Miami until he wooed LeBron James and Chris Bosh to the Heat to end his days as the lone Alpha dog. He tried to emulate the Miami days in Chicago, tried to fill a role in Cleveland.

And now, this.

Wade thinks he's changed teams for the final time. Whether he plays past this season or not, this is his role until the end. It is the final reinvention.

"I want to be my best self," Wade said. "If I'm on the bench to start games, if I'm on the bench to end games, as long as we're winning. That's all I care about."