Eight years after his NBA Finals heroics, Dwyane Wade must now adapt

On June 20, 1996, Dwyane Wade pulled off one of the greatest NBA Finals performances ever -- and the Miami Heat won their first-ever title -- but that player is long gone.

If the Miami Heat hope to win another title, they need to understand the Dwyane Wade they have, not the one they lost.

Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE

Not that he's done playing basketball or anything, but if there's a Dwyane Wade you want to remember, one that was the pure encapsulation of everything that peak Dwyane Wade could do, go watch some highlights from Game 6 of the 2006 NBA Finals. It was a transcendent performance —eight years ago today — that propelled a Miami Heat made up of himself, an aging Shaquille O'Neal and little else of note to the franchise's first title.

Years from now, the Dwyane Wade you most certainly do not want to remember is that one that seemed barely capable of playing defense (or much offense) against the San Antonio Spurs in this latest NBA Finals appearance. As painful as the footage is to watch for basketball fans, it's likely nothing compared to the pain actually being felt by Wade as he tries to resurrect the skills from eight years back that have now clearly eluded him. 

"As I told you guys, I'm never going to point at anything physically," Wade said after the deciding Game 5. "I felt fine. I just struggled a little bit offensively."

That doesn't even remotely describe how much Wade's output has dropped off, especially compared to his 2006 heroics, which have been called the greatest overall Finals performance in NBA history. For the entire 2006 Finals, Wade's average Game Score metric, which can be used to grade overall performance, was 25.6. An average Game Score is around 10. No one else on the Heat averaged an 8.0 for that series. Wade, statistically speaking, carried the Heat to the title. His 36 points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three blocks in Game 6 became forever legendary, but they barely topped his series averages.

The 2014 Wade is a rough pencil sketch of that full-color masterpiece from eight years ago. His average Game Score for this most recent Finals was 7.9. His Offensive Rating, which was 113 back in 2006, fell to 89 for these Finals, the lowest of any Heat starter not named Mario Chalmers. His points per game fell from 34.7 to 15.2, and his stats across the board all took precipitous drops.

Even without that 2006 performance as a (somewhat unfair) baseline, it was hard to watch this 32-year-old Wade lumber through the Finals, constantly costing his team points at both ends of the floor, his knees turning to talcum powder before our eyes.

The good news for the Heat and their fans is that Dwyane Wade doesn't need to be that 2006 Dwyane Wade anymore, not with the supporting cast he currently boasts. Back in 2006, he had Shaq and Antoine Walker (?) and Jason Williams (??) and not too much else to rely upon. But with LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Ray Allen, Wade can transition to that No. 3 or 4 option in a revamped offense. Any league that will accommodate a 39-year-old Jason Kidd or Derek Fisher is that one that will gladly take what it can get from a less-than-ideal Dwyane Wade.

It's admirable that team president Pat Riley wants to speak highly of Wade's talents, diminishing as they may be. But he does no just service to the franchise's future by treading in denial:

What does he have to do mentally and spiritually to get him to another level at that age of 32. [Wade] does have pain, but he doesn't have the debilitating injury that could end his career. Is there something that would allow him to become physically better? He's too smart, too good, too talented to not play a major role for years to come.

If Riley thinks Wade is going to play "a major role" on the Heat for years to come, it's clear he wasn't watching the same NBA Finals as the rest of the world.

It's true — Wade can still be a more than capable NBA player for some time. But the 2006 Dwyane Wade is long gone. And he's not coming back.

And a team tailored to a Dwyane Wade who can adjust to the new realities might just be one that gets back to the Finals next season.

You can follow Erik Malinowski on Twitter at @erikmal and email him at erik.malinowski@fox.com.

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