Wade likes coming off bench, but role might change

Updated: August 26, 2006, 2:55 PM ET
Associated Press

SAITAMA, Japan -- Dwyane Wade sized up the U.S. roster and decided how he could best make a difference: on the bench.

That seemed like a strange place for a player just two months removed from winning the MVP award at the NBA Finals. But it made perfect sense to Wade, who is just as comfortable fitting in as he is standing out.

"It's something that I wanted," he said. "This team is very deep, and of course Coach can start me at any time with these guys. But me coming off the bench gives us another dimension and I love it."

So did the rest of the Americans, who went 5-0 during pool play before moving on to meet Australia on Sunday in the round of 16.

Once Wade settled on his plan, he discussed it with fellow captains LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and told them he was bringing it to U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Krzyzewski quickly went along with the idea. He saw it as a way to separate Wade, James and Anthony -- all needing plenty of shots -- while giving him a bona fide scorer to lead his second unit.

Anthony wasn't as easily convinced, recalling his first thought when he was told of the plan.

"First? He ain't doing that," Anthony said. "That was my first impression.

"Then once I sat down and really thought about it, I said, 'How do you feel about that?' He was like, 'I think it will be better for everybody,' and it has been. Not that we don't want him out there with us in the first group, but him coming off the bench is like instant offense, especially with that group that he comes off the bench with."

Playing primarily with Kirk Hinrich, Elton Brand, Antawn Jamison and Joe Johnson, Wade averaged 21.4 points during pool play. That ranked fourth in the tournament behind fellow NBA All-Stars Yao Ming, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol.

The question is how long Wade would keep his super sub role as the games grew tougher.

The Americans were in serious trouble only once during pool play, when they trailed Italy by 12 points early in the second half. When the U.S. took the floor for the third quarter down 45-36, Wade was out there with the starters instead of sitting with the reserves.

Wade finished with 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting, and his penetration helped free Anthony, who scored an American-record 35 as the U.S. rallied for a 94-85 victory.

"We were down at halftime, we said, 'Look D-Wade, get back out there,' " Anthony said. "And we came back out there and we turned it around."

Krzyzewski said after practice Saturday that Wade would play "significant minutes," and his two-team rotation wouldn't be used for the elimination rounds.

But Wade, a bag of ice on his right wrist after a hard fall against Italy, wouldn't say when he would make his first appearance on the court.

"I don't know if I'm going to start or come off the bench, but that'll be a decision that me and Coach will make," Wade said. "Right now we've been making the right decisions with me coming off. If that continues, I'm fine with it. If not, I'm fine with getting in the starting lineup. So we'll see."

Wade sat out the final game of group play, an easy victory over Senegal, and played only 21 minutes a game in his four appearances. He surely welcomed the extra rest after he spent the spring getting knocked around while leading the Miami Heat to the NBA championship.

But the Americans need him now -- however they decide to use him.

The U.S. got off to slow starts during almost every game in the first round, but was able to overcome them because of an abundance of talent and depth.

They may not have that luxury as the field continues to shrink, so Krzyzewski will have to decide if his team is at its best with Wade as a starter or reserve.

"I think he was being a good team guy and saying, 'Look, you don't have to start me, I'll come off the bench,' " Krzyzewski said. "He'll do whatever you want him to do. He's a champion."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press