There are some surefire signs that you've arrived among the NBA's elite: You make the All-Star team, you crack the top 10 in scoring, you pull a Willis Reed and put on an amazing playoff performance while injured, and you accept an offer from Diddy to make you the "NBA's first male supermodel." All those things happened to guard Dwyane Wade last season--his second in the league. When it ended, though, Wade had a bad taste in his mouth and a searing pain in his abdomen. He pulled a muscle executing a crossover dribble in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Detroit and, after sitting out Game 6, needed two cortisone injections to play in Game 7. "I keep asking myself what happened," says Wade. "Maybe my body wore down, or maybe God was testing me."
To steel himself for any challenges the league or the Almighty might have in store, Wade spent the off-season bulking up in his hometown of Chicago with strength coach Tim Grover. The 6'4" Wade added five pounds and now weighs 217. At the Heat's training camp, his physique caught a few eyes. "Oh, Lord, he's muscled up," said backup guard Dorell Wright.
Over the summer the Heat acquired point guards Jason Williams and Gary Payton, so Wade will function almost exclusively as a shooting guard. "I'll have the opportunity to get out on the wing and run some like I used to," says Wade, who, in addition to his off-season work for Diddy, made the scene at the MTV Video Music Awards and won an ESPY. "I've been everywhere," he says, "so hopefully people aren't tired of me yet." The people guarding him might be.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Heat
"The question that everyone will be asking is, Will Pat Riley take over as coach? I think Riley will coach again in the league, and I also think he wants to do right by the team's owner [Mickey Arison], who has paid Riley [the team's president] a huge amount of money over the years. If it looks as if they're struggling, Stan Van Gundy will be on a short leash.... I think Shaq's got two strong years left in him. They weren't so worried about bringing in great defensive players around him, because he can still dominate around the rim defensively for 32 minutes a game. Offensively, they need to use him; they can't be wasting Shaq's time in the half-court running staggered screens for Dwyane Wade and others.... Jason Williams will thrive in a disciplined program like Miami's. They needed a true point, and he'll be excellent as a fourth or fifth option offensively. He arrived in the league as a wild player for Sacramento, but his assist-to-turnover ratio was excellent the last few years for Memphis.... Is Wade a top five player? I rank him ahead of Tracy McGrady but behind Kobe Bryant. My only question is his durability--he plays with a fearlessness that puts him at risk of getting hurt. Plus he can continue to raise his game as his shooting improves."
Shaquille O'Neal has averaged at least 20 points and 10 boards in 13 straight seasons--one year more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 59-23 (1st in East)
Points scored: 101.5 (4th in NBA)
Points allowed: 95.0 (8th)
Coach: Stan Van Gundy
(third season with the Heat)
BENCH 2004-05 STATS