Dwyane Wade facing perhaps his greatest challenge with Heat

MIAMI -- As Thursday's NBA trade deadline approached and his team finished practice, Dwyane Wade stretched across a massage table and thumbed through his phone.

The face of the Miami Heat's franchise skipped the workout.

And he later vowed he'd be doing so more often.

"I'm going to sit out a lot of practices," Wade said, only slightly joking after he received treatment for minor knee soreness. "That's the advantage I have, being here 13 years."

Indeed, Wade has seen it all during his decorated career in Miami. But that doesn't make it any easier to stomach the Heat's current predicament. There may be no greater challenge of his tenure than what he's facing as the Heat (29-24) begin their stretch run to maintain a playoff spot, starting with Friday's game against the Atlanta Hawks.

Wade needs all the rest he can get, considering what lies ahead.

A midseason break that should have rejuvenated the Heat has only left them diminished. The team is not sure whether leading scorer Chris Bosh will play again this season as the 11-time All-Star continues to be evaluated for a potential recurrence of blood clots.

Bosh reportedly met with medical specialists in Boston on Thursday to determine a course of action after sitting out All-Star activities in Toronto last weekend. Bosh, 31, missed Miami's final 30 games after blood clots were discovered in his lungs last February, which ended his season days after he played in the 2015 All-Star Game in New York City.

The uncertainty surrounding Bosh essentially rendered Thursday's trade deadline a numbers game for the Heat. They made three minor trades over two days that wiped away a potential $25 million luxury tax bill that had faced the franchise at the end of the season.

Those transactions weren't designed to make this teetering team better. Instead, it was all about accounting and future flexibility.

For now, the Heat have 29 games remaining and two available roster spots to perhaps add depth at the minimum salary. The irony is that just more than a month ago, Wade told a small group of reporters that he wanted no part of another ordeal like last season. That's when the Heat stumbled after the All-Star break without Bosh, barely battling for a playoff spot until they were ultimately eliminated from contention entering the season's final week.

"I ain't going to lie to you -- I was happy," Wade said in January of having extra time last offseason to rest instead of securing a final playoff seed. "Once we weren't good enough and knew we weren't going to win a championship, I didn't really care about making it to the first round, just to say we made it. I enjoyed knowing we were going to have a long summer to focus on my body. So it was good for us."

If Bosh is sidelined for the long haul -- and the Heat having made no moves to bolster the roster -- it's conceivable Miami could fall from fifth place in the East and out of the postseason picture. Facing a stretch of seven games in 12 days against Atlanta, Washington, Indiana, Golden State, Boston, New York and Chicago, it's also possible Miami could be at or below .500 on March 1.

Based on what's transpired in recent days, it's clear the Heat's main priorities were set at securing Bosh options to focus on his health and avoiding the punitive luxury tax, both by any means necessary. Wade now must lead what's left of the Heat's roster, with far more responsibility falling on the shoulders of promising rookie Justise Winslow and the talented but erratic center Hassan Whiteside.

"Right now, it's [about] being the best team that we can," Wade said as the Heat prepared to travel to Atlanta. "We have to find ways to come together. We're missing a big piece right now. Obviously, you can't fill C.B.'s void. But you have to have other guys step up in the role that C.B. plays. Until we play a game, we're not going to understand the void of missing Chris. We're going to have to figure it out."

That process means relying on players who had just emerged from the trade rumor mill. Wade pointed specifically to Josh McRoberts as a player who needs to do more immediately.

"We're going to need him to score the basketball some," Wade said. "He's an unbelievable playmaker, but we also need him to be aggressive."

"I don't want them clouding their minds with conventional labels. But you want to have guys that can do multiple things." Erik Spoelstra

Whiteside is suspended for Friday's game against Atlanta for his flagrant elbow during a loss to San Antonio in the final game before the All-Star break. So that further dwindles a frontcourt now forced to go small, with Winslow and Luol Deng at the forward spots, for Friday and throughout Bosh's absence.

"So you really try to get away from labeling," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of no longer defining players by normal positions. "They'll be out there and Dwyane will be out there. I don't want them clouding their minds with conventional labels. But you want to have guys that can do multiple things."

One thing Wade knows he can't do is turn back the clock. He was asked Thursday if he might need to revert to his 2006 NBA Finals MVP form to keep the Heat afloat.

"That was 10 years ago," said Wade, whose averages of 18.7 points and 30.1 minutes this season are the fewest since his rookie year. "None of us are our 10-years-ago selves. More has been put on my plate from the standpoint of having to make more plays for guys and scoring more. I will try to do that."

What Wade can't do is help Bosh recover or know for sure when his teammate and close friend will be back. Wade also can't fix some of the roster problems and personnel mistakes from the post-LeBron era, even as team president Pat Riley and his staff cleaned up the luxury tax issue.

It's not even a given Wade will play Friday. With the Heat returning home Saturday to face the Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back set, Wade must definitely pick his spots as he tries to bail his team out of some unfortunate circumstances.

Over the next two months, there's plenty to do.

Just don't expect Wade to practice, too.