The arrival of Dwyane Wade in Cleveland was billed as a boon for the Cavaliers, who were pairing the 12-time All-Star with friend, fellow legend and former Miami Heat teammate LeBron James. The two were full of laughs as they sat for an ESPN interview to air in concert with the NBA’s opening night.
We knew Wade wasn’t the same player who exploded through opposing defenses for all those years in Miami, and he recognizes that, too — brutally so in a candid conversation with The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd. But we still figured he would add firepower to a Cavs roster that was waiting on Isaiah Thomas’ return in the wake of the Kyrie Irving trade. What we didn’t know was that few in Cleveland agreed.
Via The Athletic, midway through as juicy an NBA story as you’ll read a month into the season, we learned that most Cavs had no interest in Wade on a team that was just finding its way without Irving on the eve of training camp, especially at the expense of popular locker-room figure Richard Jefferson:
“There was a couple guys with it,” James said. “But it wasn’t a lot.”
The fact Wade wasn’t openly embraced bothered James.
“I still know what he’s capable of doing. Why wouldn’t you want another guy in the locker room that brings a championship mentality and a guy who can still play?” James said. “So, of course, it bothered me, but f*** it. It is what it is.”
It’s enough to make you wonder how much that fed Cleveland’s rocky start, which resulted in a 5-7 record through the season’s first three weeks and fed questions about what was the worst defense in the league. Not only that, but Wade had a brutal start to his 15th campaign, and even James was publicly lamenting his team’s lack of playmakers, of which his good friend was supposed to be one.
Wade conceded to Lloyd that he contemplated retirement as far back as 2014, when LeBron returned to Cleveland, that what were once one-dribble baseline dunks now require three and something extra, and even that, “I know at this point of my career, I can’t give you that every night. I’m OK with that.”
“But Bron asked me to come here, I talked to Ty Lue, he didn’t say he didn’t want me here, so I decided to come,” Wade told The Athletic. “I know if it was anything bad then Bron wouldn’t have asked me to be here or put me in this situation where I just wasn’t totally wanted. But I understand the difference, what they were coming off of and me coming in.
“But I always feel like no matter what, if I’m on the court, we’ve got a good chance to win. Is that a bad mentality to have?”
But Cleveland wasn’t winning, and Wade’s 20-plus minutes a night were a net negative. That’s changed during the recent winning streak, when he’s put together an eight-game stretch of 14.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 26.1 minutes a night, during which the Cavaliers have been a plus-86 total. With Wade, Kyle Korver and Channing Frye on the floor, the second unit has outscored opponents by 22.6 points per 100 possessions over 163 minutes, and the 35-year-old guard is serving as the maestro.
But you wonder if there is still lingering bitterness about the Cavs becoming the LeBron and Wade show when they had a pretty good thing going themselves the past few years, like when the sorority sisters finally meet the bride’s best childhood friend at the bachelorette party. You wonder if Wade’s request to come off the bench alleviated some of their concerns, especially those of J.R. Smith, who per Lloyd was “deeply stung” by losing his starting spot. And you wonder if this issue will creep up again should Wade revert to the player who’s been oft-injured and oft-ineffective in recent years.
You wonder what happens to Wade, who openly admitted he can’t play fewer than 25 minutes a night because it often takes him 15 just to warm up, when Thomas returns to eat a ton of backcourt minutes — especially given this quote about Lue, Cleveland’s 40-year-old coach, again via The Athletic:
“I was pissed at the fact I wasn’t playing, but I try to control what I can control,” Wade said. “I’m not gonna come whine at you every time something goes on because one thing I always think about, I understand he’s in a tough situation, a tough position. And I know sometimes you coach a bad game. Now if it becomes something that happens all the time, then it’s a conversation you need to have.”
You just wonder. That’s what makes Lloyd’s conversation with Wade so fascinating. That and the candidness with which a future Hall of Famer considers his legacy while still adding to it. Read it.
But for all the wondering, LeBron makes one thing clear: He isn’t really interested in finding out what his Cavaliers think about Wade’s presence on the team now, so long as they continue to win like this.
“I don’t know,” James told Lloyd. “But that ain’t my worry. … We don’t care. We’re ego-less guys. That’s why we get along so well — myself, D-Wade, CP and Melo. We don’t really give a damn what people say and what people think. We just want to play ball and win.”
This is as clear a window as we’ve gotten into the LeBron-as-GM joke that’s persisted throughout his career in Cleveland and Miami. LeBron is as cold as a front-office shot-caller often needs to be. If adding Wade is an upgrade, and it costs you Jefferson at the expense of some feelings, so be it.
But you wonder if James would have been so willing to disrupt the locker room had Wade not been a friend. You wonder if this brazenness — “We’re ego-less guys,” but, “We don’t give a damn what people say and what people think” — is the sort of mentality that led Irving to want out. Yeah, you wonder.
But, hey, you can’t argue with results.
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