by Michael Bradley

He has the ring and the gold. The scoring title and the Finals MVP trophy.

Now, Dwyane Wade has the validation.

How else do you describe what happened this summer, when LeBron James decided that the quickest avenue to an NBA title was to join forces with Wade? He couldn’t do it himself. Didn’t want to join the Bulls. Said no to the Knicks. Cavs? Clippers? Nets? No. Nope. Nyet. Miami and Wade were Highway One.

Can’t blame James, can you? Who in the world wouldn’t want to play with Wade? He handles everything on the to-do list each gaDwyane Wademe, and he does it without seeming as if the world revolves around him. He’ll score 30, but it will be an efficient effort, not some look-at-me performance designed to earn hype and excessive praise. Wade hits the big shots and makes the fancy plays. He also passes, defends, rebounds and leads. That’s the big reason for James’ choice. Lots of guys can pile up the points; Wade is one of the few who makes it seem as if that outcome is the only proper way the game should go.

He plays a position where that isn’t exactly the norm. Look at some of the 2 men in the League, and it’s a wonder they haven’t changed their names to Get N. Mine. If they have less than 10 points at the half, everybody else on the team had better forget about getting the ball after intermission. Wade will score, but he won’t be a pig about it.

Check out his ‘08-09 season, when voters robbed him of the MVP award, because Miami won only 43 games. Only 43 games? Without Wade, the Heat wouldn’t have won five. Did you see that roster? No offense to Michael Beasley, Udonis Haslem and Co., but Wade had to do it all. And he did. He won his first scoring title. Became the first player in NBA history under 6-5 to block 100 shots. He averaged 7.5 apg and 5.0 rpg. Wade had better points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks averages than either James or Kobe Bryant, yet they finished ahead of him in the voting. Who votes for this award, hockey fans?

The best part about that season was that Wade didn’t complain a bit. He kept up the hard work, fighting through the nagging injuries and leading a team with some serious holes. Last season, when the undermanned Heat was on the verge of being swept by Boston in the first round of the Playoffs, Wade showed his pride and leadership by dropping 46, outscoring the entire Celtic team in the fourth quarter, 19-15, to avert the quick exit. It didn’t matter that the whole thing was a lost cause; Wade wasn’t going out like that.

He won’t be making a first-round exit this year, since he now has the supporting cast he needs to get back to the top. That’s right: supporting cast. James and Chris Bosh chose to join him. They know how much it will mean to play with a star who does it all. The Promised Land Express is getting ready to roll. Looks like there are some interesting passengers on board.

Engineer Wade is ready to throw down the throttle. Get ready for a wild ride.

Ray AllenCelticsSG5036109
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG493498
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646812
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312
David WestHornetsPF4131128
Monta EllisWarriorsSG40NR7NR
Andrew BogutBucksC39NR4NR
Yao MingRocketsC38NR3NR
Brandon JenningsBucksPG37NR11NR
Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF36NR11NR
Stephen CurryWarriorsPG35NR10NR
David LeeWarriorsPF34NR10NR
Brook LopezNetsC33NR2NR
Gerald WallaceBobcatsSF32NR7NR
Manu GinobiliSpursSG312967
Tony ParkerSpursPG301593
Kevin GarnettCelticsPF291393
Rudy GayGrizzliesSF284469
Josh SmithHawksPF2740813
Andre Iguodala76ersSG262656
Al JeffersonJazzPF252377
Russell WestbrookThunderPG24NR8NR
Chauncey BillupsNuggetsPG231975
Tyreke EvansKingsPG22NR6NR
Danny GrangerPacersSF212155
Carlos BoozerBullsPF203269
Paul PierceCelticsSF191744
Joe JohnsonHawksSG182044
Rajon RondoCelticsPG172758
Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF161656
Steve NashSunsPG152246
Tim DuncanSpursPF14641
Chris BoshHeatPF131334
Derrick RoseBullsPG121834
Brandon RoyBlazersSG111033
Pau GasolLakersPF101425
Dirk NowiztkiMavsPF9912
Deron WilliamsJazzPG81122
Chris PaulHornetsPG7411
Carmelo AnthonyNuggetsSF6732
Dwight HowardMagicC5511
Dwyane WadeHeatSG4322

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.