LeBron James was feeling himself Monday. The league’s biggest star hosted a masterful 41-minute press conference, doing everything from cracking jokes to making analogies about his kids to speaking out against President Donald Trump. He was feeling great, and had plenty of reasons to be! But I wonder if one of them was knowing he’d be reuniting with Dwyane Wade.
We found out Tuesday that Wade and the Cavaliers will sign a one-year, $2.3 million deal when Wade clears waivers on Wednesday. This was always the most likely outcome after Wade and the Chicago Bulls reached a buyout on Sunday; really, it was the most likely outcome ever since the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler in June to kick off their rebuilding phase. But the buyout was the final thing lying between a Wade and James reunion. I know James knew on Monday it was going to happen.
The Cavaliers will need to clear a roster spot since they currently have 15 players with guaranteed contracts. They are fortunately that they convinced Wade to take the cheaper veteran’s minimum over the midlevel exception, too, since they’re deep in the luxury tax. Wade did receive about $15.8 million of the $23.8 million left on his Bulls contract, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
So there are a few questions still left to be answered, yes. But here’s the only juicy one: Will Dwyane Wade start?
First, what role will Wade play in Cleveland?
Time is unbeatable and 2017 Wade is no 2014 Wade. That’s the last time James and Wade were together, and these three years have certainly slowed Wade down. (Impossibly, it almost seems like James is getting better, but that’s another story.)
But Wade is still averaged 18 points on an aimless Chicago Bulls team last season. It wasn’t a “good” 18 points, by modern offensive standards — he shot 43 percent from the field, only hit 45 threes, and had the lowest assist percentage (22.3 percent) of his career. Chicago also played about 4.5 points better with him off the floor than on it. But it wasn’t a total collapse, and it clearly shows that Wade still has juice left.
Wade turns 36 in January. He’s still a bad three-point shooter and his athleticism is declining, too. But we can chalk up some of his inefficiency last season to a poor fitting roster. In fact, Rajon Rondo next to Wade easily made Chicago the worst-shooting backcourt in the league.
The Cavaliers don’t want Wade to play like he did in Chicago. During the four seasons that Wade played with James, he took 37 percent of his shots within three feet of the basket while hitting nearly 70 percent of them. Those numbers fell immediately after James’ departure, and they fell even further in Chicago. But the chemistry between those two is excellent, and that’s a huge reason for it.
After Irving’s departure, Cleveland needs more playmaking. But they’ll also want the Wade who dominated on fast breaks and had a keen knack for cutting to the basket.
Where does Wade fit into the rotation?
Stars want to start, and so will Wade. (We saw how Carmelo Anthony reacted to the idea of coming off the bench on Monday, after all.) Good news: he should.
The Cavaliers are very aware that Isaiah Thomas’ hip injury will keep him out for a while — maybe January, possibly even longer. Their backup is Derrick Rose. That’s not a good thing for anyone involved.
But Cleveland doesn’t need a real point guard, really, not with LeBron James really running the offense. They could start Wade there, keep J.R. Smith at shooting guard, and make sure everyone is satisfied. Neither Rose nor Wade can really shoot threes, but Wade hides it better — or, at least, has in the past during his Miami days. And Wade has played nominal point guard in his career before, too. According to basketball-reference.com, 13 percent of his career minutes have come at the 1.
The worst plausible solution would be to start Rose and bench Smith for Wade. James is at his best when surrounded by a glut of shooters. A starting lineup that features a poor shooting backcourt and a non-shooting center (Tristan Thompson) would be hideous.
Cleveland could try to convince Wade to come off the bench. When Thomas returns, this might be the right move. Thomas, Wade, James, and Love all in the same five-man unit is a lot of mouths to feed, and while they may finish games together, there’s no reason to force them together early on. If you massage his ego early, then perhaps Wade will accept a supersub sixth-man role later on.
But in Thomas’ absence, the Cavaliers shouldn’t even mention the bench. Plus, they need Wade’s extra playmaking, even if he’s not a player you want taking 10 isolations per game anymore. (Wade shot just 38 percent on isolation plays last season.)
Wade is still a real weapon with the right utilization, assuming he doesn’t drop off even further. He’s hurt your spacing and, at this point, your defense, too. But the Cavaliers need all the firepower they can acquire for a fourth potential showdown against the Warriors next June, and Wade helps them there.