Cavaliers Coach Tyronn Lue said Monday that Dwyane Wade, who recently joined the team after coming to a contract buyout agreement with the Bulls, will be the starting shooting guard. J.R. Smith, who started for Cleveland at that position the past three seasons, each of which ended with the Cavs in the NBA Finals, will move to a reserve role.
Wade will join two other offseason additions in Cleveland’s revamped starting lineup. Derrick Rose is set to play point guard, at least until Isaiah Thomas, another addition, comes back from injury, and Jae Crowder will play power forward.
LeBron James and Kevin Love are the holdovers, but while the former will maintain his familiar role as the Cavs’ small forward and primary ball distributor, Love will shift to center as Tristan Thompson joins Smith on the second unit. Kyrie Irving had been Cleveland’s point guard since he was selected with the No. 1 draft pick in 2011, but he was traded to the Celtics for a package that included Thomas, Crowder and a 2018 first-round pick.
Lue did not explain his reasoning for making Wade a starter at shooting guard after the latter had been playing primarily as the Cavs’ point guard for the second unit. “I just wanted to do it,” the coach said at the team’s practice facility (via ESPN).
Lue did have praise for how Rose, who signed with Cleveland as a free agent after spending last season with the Knicks, performed in a recent stint as the backup point guard. “I think having him on the second unit, along with the first unit, him and Bron can always push the pace because we want to play with pace, play fast,” Lue said.
As for Smith, the coach said, “It’s tough. You’ve been in position where you went to three straight Finals and you’ve been the starting two-guard. But like I said, it’s about sacrifice if you want to win. J.R. was great about it. Just knows he has to have a different role right now so we’ll see how it works.”
Wade played alongside James to great effect in Miami, where the pair led the Heat to four straight Finals from 2011 to 2014, winning two titles. Last season, when Wade turned 35, he averaged 18.3 points on .434 shooting, including .310 from three-point range, for Chicago.
Smith, who turned 32 in September, averaged 8.6 points on .346 shooting last season, including .351 on three-pointers. He averaged 8.7 field goal attempts to Wade’s 15.9.
Last month, after Wade joined the Cavs, Smith said he didn’t “care” whether he remained a starter or got moved to the bench. “If anything, it prolongs my career,” he said (via ESPN) of a possible reserve role. “I don’t got to do as much, I ain’t got to chase as many defenders around, and so instead of me playing 18 years, I can get to 20, 21 years.”
Thomas, who is out with a hip injury, is expected to return around late December. In his first practice with Wade as Cleveland teammates, James rolled his ankle and missed some preseason games, but he is set to rejoin the lineup Tuesday, ahead of the team’s regular season opener next week.
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