INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — With just about a week until the Cleveland Cavaliers begin the regular season against the Boston Celtics, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue named Dwyane Wade his fifth and final starter for opening night. Wade, a 12-time All-Star and three-time champion, will replace JR Smith at shooting guard.
“I just wanted to do it,” Lue explained after practice Monday.
Wade will join a starting lineup of Derrick Rose at point guard, LeBron James at small forward, Jae Crowder at the 4 and Kevin Love at the 5 as the Cavs start their campaign hoping to avenge a loss to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals in June.
James, sidelined since the second day of training camp with a sprained left ankle, will join the rest of the starters back on the court for the Cavs’ final two preseason games Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls and Friday against the Orlando Magic to practice the lineup before the curtain comes up on the season and they have to face Kyrie Irving and the Celtics.
“It’s been hard since LeBron’s been out, but just something we’re going to do to start the season and see how it works,” Lue said.
A major determining factor for Lue was how Rose acquitted himself with the second unit when he played point guard with Cleveland’s reserves in the Cavs’ 106-102 preseason loss to the Indiana Pacers last week.
“Really good,” Lue said of Rose’s turn at 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. And then we want to get D-Rose back with that second unit, we can push and we’ve got JR and Kyle (Korver) running the lanes, and you have Jeff Green filling the lanes and D-Rose can go to the basket. So, he’s going to be able to find guys and we’re going to have a lot of space on the floor for him, but we can still play with pace.”
At times last season, Lue would have Irving play a similar role by starting at point guard, coming out of the game with around four minutes remaining in the first quarter and then coming back in at point guard with the second unit to start the second quarter.
Wade had opened up training camp playing a heavy dose of backup point guard in practice, but evidently Lue found Rose better suited for that role.
Cleveland’s starting lineup will likely change once again whenever Isaiah Thomas returns from a torn labrum in his right hip. He is expected back on the court by late December and will be needed to be worked back into the mix.
It led to Lue’s second touchy conversation in as many weeks with a player that was part of the Cavs’ three straight Eastern Conference crowns to tell him he is being moved to the bench – first it was Tristan Thompson, then it was Smith.
“He was fine,” Lue said of Smith. “It’s tough, you’ve been in position where you went to three straight Finals and you’ve been the starting 2-guard. But like I said it’s about sacrifice if you want to win. JR was great about it. Just knows he has to have a different role right now so we’ll see how it works.”
In the limited action both players have seen this preseason, Wade outperformed Smith. Wade is averaging 13.5 points on 61.9 percent shooting, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists in two preseason games; Smith is averaging 5.0 points on 30.8 percent shooting, 1.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists.
Smith was asked at a team media day last month about potentially taking a step back to accommodate Wade and put a positive spin on how his role could change.
“As long as we win, I don’t care,” Smith said at the time. “Honestly. If anything, it prolongs my career. 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.”
Wade’s role, of course, will reunite him with James in the starting lineup. The last time they linked up in that fashion, the pair made it to four straight Finals and won two championships with the Miami Heat.
The Cavs have now moved two of their better individual defenders to the bench — Smith and Thompson — while only adding one plus defender back to that group in Crowder. Lue’s lineup appears to skew to offensively, but James sees potential in the defense Cleveland can get out of its starters.
“Jae, D-Wade is a big 2-guard, I’m a big small forward. … D-Rose is a big point guard,” James said. “We have the versatility and the ability to fly around with the athleticism that we have and the IQ we have as well. We can do a few different things defensively.”