The adaptable Dwyane Wade finding his best life in Cleveland after one-year situationship with Bulls

Vincent Goodwill
NBC Sports Chicago

Dwyane Wade stood at the top of the key, dribbling between his legs with eyes on him but feet in cement.

Leaving the likes of LeBron James on one side or Kyle Korver on the other was not an option, so Wade had the world at his feet and defender at his mercy.

It's space he hasn't had in years-or more accurately, space he probably never had. Space never mattered much to the athletic marvel, but however he can get it at age 35 he'll take it.

Wade's new basketball life was on full display Monday at the United Center, where he gave his former team and former rival an easy 24 points as a sixth man-- with six assists in 25 minutes.

Dwyane Wade, sixth man?

Yes, the same Dwyane Wade who was Finals MVP in 2006 and same Dwyane Wade who was LeBron James' most coveted sidekick during their years of terrorizing teams in South Beach is now moving into the role of being Dwyane Wade, sixth man, and making a run at being the best in the business at it.

It's no surprise Wade looked as comfortable in a Cavaliers jersey as he did at times in a Bulls uniform last year, in the Cavaliers' 113-91 shellacking of the rebuilding Bulls.

After a one-year situationship with the Bulls that wasn't quite a relationship but not quite acrimonious, he pocketed $39 million and went on his merry way to Cleveland following his buyout before Media Day this September to rejoin James for some potential June magic.

"None extra," said Wade when asked about motivation being back in Chicago. "We just wanted to continue to keep playing well. Of course, you always want to play well here. I always, my whole career, wanted to play well here. I've failed some, but I've succeeded some."

Chalk this one up as a success, as he had plenty to give the Bulls with his fresh legs. There was the body and fender work he gave to David Nwaba before an easy fadeaway, the corner triple in front of the Bulls bench (thanks coach Hoiberg for the extra shooting lessons) and another fadeaway in the face of Lauri Markkanen.

"He was damn good. I'll say that," Hoiberg said. "I don't know if it was motivation, but he's been playing great."

He knew it early, as Wade looked spry and motivated to get this game over quickly.

"I feel it pretty quickly. The one thing that been great this year, coach (Tyronn Lue) has been giving us a lot of days off and off our legs and that helps," Wade said. "You feel fresh coming into the game. So I've been feeling that of late. When I'm not feeling it, I've got great guys on the other side of me that I can become a passer that night. That's a luxury of being on this team, why I wanted to be on this team."

As the kids say nowadays, Wade was "in his bag."

"I've been in a groove lately, so I'm scoring heavily right now," Wade said. "We joked after the game and Channing (Frye) told me next game I'd go back to passing. But I'm just in a good groove, so I'm taking my opportunities as they come. When I get good opportunities I can go one-on-one."

Wade's move to the bench-and more importantly, his embracing of being a reserve-has played a big part in the Cavaliers turning a 5-7 record to a 12-game winning streak and early concern to an easy groove.

With Derrick Rose out contemplating his basketball future and Isaiah Thomas on the mend from offseason surgery, Wade stepped into the role of off the bench stabilizer as if it was created for him-not like the rich getting richer when he signed in Cleveland after his buyout with the Bulls.

Of course, James is the force that raises all tides and Wade's affect wouldn't be so effective without James leading the way, but Wade's ability to adapt throughout his career has been remarkable-and an example many would be wise to follow.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a modern-day superstar who has played so many roles and done them to equal parts effectiveness and near-perfection. Perhaps only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-who transitioned to a secondary role in the late-1980s when Magic Johnson began taking a bigger lead of the Lakers' show-can lay claim to being so adaptable.

"First off, I don't carry myself as a superstar," Wade said in the morning shootaround. "I carry myself as a basketball player. On the court, when I'm with a team, I think of just being a basketball player. I don't think about being a superstar. I'm a part of a team. I always want to be my best self for the team and always play my best role."

The best version of Wade was the one carrying an aging Shaquille O'Neal to a title in 2006-the player who barely needed a sliver of daylight before blowing past a defender and to the rim.

The version where Wade played perfect sidekick to James from 2010 to 14 needed a little more space but still could summon nights where he was the best player on the floor and could carry a team for long stretches.

This current incarnation of Wade-not dissimilar to Jimmy Butler's wingman on a Bulls team with a limited ceiling given the roster construction-would have been wasted had he stayed in Chicago this year, even as a mentor.

He chuckled at the thought of coming off the bench for this Bulls team, saying "No. Wasn't doing that," and turned his eyes toward Cleveland, a franchise that has its eyes on June.

"It took time for everyone to get comfortable, it took everybody else around me time to get comfortable with each other," Wade said. "And then from there I moved to the bench. It was another adjustment I had to make early in the season but it became an easier adjustment than anything since I've left Miami that I've done."

And it's far better for Wade to be gearing up for one more possible title run than a slow, trudging walk to the lottery.

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