As young players such as Stephen Curry and Harrison Barnes of the Warriors, and even, say, and Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs, begin to shine with fine postseason efforts, the inevitable erosion of venerated talents leaves the sky dimmed.
Kevin Garnett, in the Celtics' gallant, looked positively pedestrian in that first-round loss to the flawed Knicks. He will be 37 on Sunday, having spent more than half his life in the league.
Manu Ginobili, almost 36 and late to the NBA anyway, has gone from hitting nearly 45 percent of his playoff shots in his last eight playoff runs, has been eroded to a 37.7 percent shooter in these playoffs.
But no one looks less like himself than Dwyane Wade.
Just 31 in January, Wade's road to the Hall of Fame began as a Prop 48 casualty at Marquette, saw him lead that team to the Final Four two seasons later and, as a result, prompted him to enter the NBA a year early. Clearly the most polished rookie in 2003-04, he finished behind Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in Rookie of the Year consideration.
Wade is incredibly tough, having played through debilitating pain in his shoulders, wrists and knees, often the product of his fearless, slashing style of play. His right knee is killing him now, and, as tough as he is, Wade has missed one playoff game and has managed only 13 points – nearly half his previous playoff average – and just under 12 shots in the other eight.
Certainly, with James playing nearly perfect basketball, and with Chris Bosh playing marvelously, the Heat need less from Wade against the mediocre Bucks and the undermanned Bulls, and they might not need much from him if the Knicks somehow beat the Pacers (the Knicks trail, 3-2).
But the Pacers, Grizzlies and Spurs all employ disciplined, physical defensive schemes. Each has a half-court defensive answer for Wade; especially, this diminished version of him.
Wade underwent offseason surgery to fix his left knee. His right knee has irritated him for 2 months.
He owes the Heat nothing, his leadership and his skills having enticed both James and Bosh to bring their talents to South Beach.
He owes the game nothing, having made the last nine All Star teams, having won two NBA championships and a scoring title, and having helped reclaimed Olympic dominance in 2008 in Beijing, leading the Redeem Team in scoring and shooting 67.1 percent … despite not starting.
Conversely, the Heat owe him little. He has earned more than $100 million, but he is due more than $60 million more over the next three seasons.
Can he be worth it to the Heat?
Can all of this pain be worth it for Wade?
How would a third NBA championship factor into this complicated equation?
Perhaps both parties would be best served if, should the Big Three make it two in a row, Wade quietly leaves the all that cash on table and walks away.