EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With ice packs adorning his legs and a box of protein drink in his hands, Dwyane Wade sat at his locker and deferred credit to his teammates for his 43-point night. Earlier, he'd deferred to his teammates on the floor, finding Daequan Cook for a clutch 3-pointer late in the Miami Heat's 106-103 victory over the Nets.
A frigid, icy New Jersey night awaiting him, Wade also was in no hurry to accelerate speculation about his plans for the free-agent summer of 2010. Even though everybody else is doing it.
A few nights ago in the hallways of this very arena, Utah's Carlos Boozer caused quite a stir when he said he has decided to decline his player option for the 2009-10 season and weigh his options. On Saturday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that LeBron James -- who has consistently fanned the flames of his impending free agency -- is considering signing an extension with the Cavaliers after the season. Such a move would signal James' contentment with the Cavs' plans to build him a championship team. It also would make July 1, 2010 -- when James has the right to decline his player option and become a free agent -- a moot point. A few weeks ago, James himself called that date "a very, very big day."
Wade, too, has a right to become a free agent in the summer of 2010, along with the likes of James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, and Paul Pierce. Unlike Boozer, whose player option comes a year early, Wade isn't ready to announce his intention to test the market. And unlike James, he isn't ready to say he'd consider re-signing with Miami next summer, either.
"I don’t know," Wade said. "I'm not concentrating on that right now. I'm not concentrating on my contract or talking contracts. I'm trying to help this team get to the playoffs and that’s all I'm worried about."
Like me, Wade didn't think Boozer's comment Wednesday night was anything controversial or surprising. Top-tier players with capable representation made sure they negotiated for the ability to sign a new contract -- with their current team or another one -- before the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2011. With a new deal between owners and players coming, who knows if the money will be there in 2011 or '12? It probably won't.
"I think it’s just giving yourself flexibility," Wade said. "And I think [Boozer] just came out and said he’s going to use his flexibility come next summer. I don’t know how it’s perceived out there, but that’s all it is. He gave himself flexibility and he gets to use it."
On Saturday, James spoke for the first time about re-signing with Cleveland next summer rather than waiting until 2010.
"You play out this season of course; I will consider it," James told the Plain Dealer. "The direction we are headed is everything I expected and more."
I asked Wade if he'd heard about James' comments.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I'm sure he has a great opportunity in Cleveland, where he’s building a championship team. Just because you signed a three-year deal doesn't mean that you won't sign an extension beforehand."
James signed a three-year, $60 million extension with Cleveland in 2006, turning heads by turning down the team's five-year, $80 million. Wade did the same.
"The deal that was signed by everybody was just to give themselves flexibility and options," Wade said. "And he can sign a longer deal this summer and be in Cleveland a long, long time."
At some point, maybe Wade will be ready to say the same thing. Not yet. He is leading the league in scoring and having a season worthy of MVP consideration. On back-to-back nights, he scored 35 to topple the Lakers and equaled his season high with 43 to turn back the Nets.
But unlike the dominance he displayed at the Olympics, Wade's excellence comes on a team that has a long way to go before it can even talk playoffs, much less championships. In that respect, Wade's situation is most similar to Bosh's in Toronto. Both need to see how things play out before they commit to anything.
"I'm under pressure to do well and to see what decision I'm going to make," Bosh told me recently. "And the organization is under pressure to bring this team around. We want to win now."
So far, Wade is content to walk the walk, rather than talk the talk.