As if anyone needed another strand to the storyline of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving staring each other down across a court for the first time in Cleveland on October 17, Tyronn Lue may just have provided it.
Lue, the Cavaliers head coach, said Monday he would play free-agent acquisition Dwyane Wade at shooting guard, alongside Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, Kevin Love and James, in his starting five. Barring injury, that lineup will be expected to take to the court against the Celtics in a week.
Lue’s decision is something of a surprise. NBA.com noted that Wade, who arrived from the Chicago Bulls at the end of September, had been expected to play point guard for the Cavaliers’ second unit. He filled that role for Lue during the Cavaliers’ preseason training camp. That means J.R. Smith, a regular starter over the past two seasons, is relegated to a bench role.
Wade wasn’t terrible for the Bulls in 2016-17, the first season of his professional career outside of Miami. He averaged 18.3 points per game on a team that shuffled into the playoffs, exactly five ppg lower than his career average, according to Basketballreference.com. Wade’s statistics have been declining since his career year of 2008-09, in line with what you would expect from an aging star. He’s 35, so it seems unlikely those numbers are going to go up again significantly.
Maybe that doesn’t matter, though—or at least that is what Lue must be hoping. In the Heat’s back-to-back championship years, Wade could rely on James and Chris Bosh to share the scoring burden. Four years on from the “Big Three” winning their last title together, and with James seemingly as good as ever, Lue is attempting to recapture that lightning in a bottle, or at least two-thirds of it. If James and Wade can re-create something approaching their original connection, maybe it won’t mean so much that the Cavaliers are starting a 35-year-old on the downslope of his career in the backcourt.
But then, there are other points of conjecture for the Cavaliers, not least the Derrick Rose question. If and when Isaiah Thomas is ready to play, he will presumably replace Rose at the point in the starting five. But as The Ringer points out, while Rose starts and Wade plays next to him, the Cavaliers are stuck with two players who would prefer to be creators than scorers, in a league where the three-pointer is increasingly important. It’s a staggering statistic, pointed out by that website, that Rose tried less than one three-point attempt per game last season. The 2017 Cavaliers are basically going to defy everything the Warriors have taught everyone about basketball over the past few seasons. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least.
And even if Rose can stay healthy, James’s desire to be the primary ball-handler looks as if it could create problems. And as The Ringer notes, perceptively, again—what happens to the Cavaliers defense without Smith, and with one player entering his late 30s and one whose career has been stalled, repeatedly, by injuries? In a week’s time, James will face down his old teammate Irving, leading a team that looks to have more questions about it than answers.
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