With no timeline for Isaiah Thomas’s return to the court, the Cavaliers will be in need of some shot creators besides James. Derrick Rose will likely be the starter in Thomas’s absence, but he’s a subpar option. Wade, though, would not be. Wade would also be preferred ahead of both Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert on the wings for Coach Tyronn Lue, and would give the Cavaliers another battle-tested veteran in their quest for a second championship.
As Bontemps wrote, Wade would be an upgrade over Rose, but whether he’s enough of an upgrade to earn a starting spot, especially once Thomas returns from injury, or if he is better suited for a bench role, isn’t clear.
The 12-time all-star has started 904 of 915 career regular season games and is joining a contender with a glut of talented guards vying for minutes — Thomas (an all-star last season who should be a presumed starter once healthy), Rose (a former league MVP and the team’s previously declared starting point guard), J.R. Smith (a dangerous three-point threat and the Cavs’ incumbent starting shooting guard), Kyle Korver (a critical floor-spacer), Shumpert (a defensive specialist in a backcourt bereft of them) and Jose Calderon (a passing savant who is well past his time). Even if Calderon is cut, that’s five backcourt players who will demand minutes if and when the team reaches full health. And that’s not accounting for James, a point-forward who mans much of the team’s ballhandling needs.
The good news: Wade understands how to play next to James better than probably anyone. As Heat teammates, the duo won two titles together in four Finals trips, with Wade making the necessary tweaks to effectively share the ball and spotlight. The two seasons before James landed in Miami, Wade ranked first in the league in usage rate; he adjusted his game slightly to make room for his superstar teammate, sliding to fourth, sixth and seventh, respectively, in the three seasons that followed. Even if he was still ranking in the top 10, his willingness to share played a key role in the team’s success. Now, at 35 and reportedly on a minimum contract, he may be asked to swallow his pride and again adjust, this time to a far more diminished role.
Last season in Chicago, the opportunities were there for Wade to still be The Man, and he averaged nearly 30 minutes per game. In Cleveland, that number would likely be slashed to somewhere around 20-25. But aside from reduced playing time and uncertainty about a starting gig, it is the end of games that could matter the most to him.
Wade has long been one of the NBA’s premier finishers. But on a team where role is almost more important than pure skill due to James’s overpowering presence, the Cavs could choose to trot out defensive aces Jae Crowder and Shumpert to lock down games alongside James, Love and possibly Thomas. Or the Cavs may look past Wade’s reduced quickness and consistently shaky three-point shooting (career 29 percent) and hope he can somehow again summon some of the magic he brought to end-of-game situations.
James and Wade together again is a nice story, and Wade has proven he can be deferential when it counts. How Cleveland adjusts to him merits watching.