<
>

Dwyane Wade forces Cavaliers out of their comfort zone

play
LeBron, Wade still getting used to reunion (2:03)

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade share if they ever envisioned playing together again and recall opposing fans' disdain the first time they teamed up. (2:03)

Dwyane Wade's arrival in Cleveland has triggered some angst within the Cavaliers organization.

JR Smith gave up his starting job to make room for Wade after Tristan Thompson moved to the bench and Kevin Love moved to center to accommodate Derrick Rose. Coach Ty Lue went to this lineup abruptly at the end of the preseason after Wade initially was coming off the bench. Wade's arrival also forced the trade of Richard Jefferson, whose departure seemed to create more social media outpouring from Cavs players than Kyrie Irving's exit.

But the sacrifices the Cleveland Cavaliers made to accommodate Wade's arrival underscored an important point. For numerous reasons, LeBron James owes Wade, and he's going to have his back in this time of transition. Most of the Cavs roster and much of the organization owes James, notably Thompson and Smith.

So when the Cavs' franchise player has advocated at times to make Wade's adjustment as smooth as possible -- and that certainly includes leaving him in his preferred role as a starter -- the trust James has earned has been extended to his good friend. Wade will start and get a chance to prove his fit with the Cavs' front line, and James will strive to make it work.

The product the Cavs put out on the floor Tuesday night in the season opener against Irving and the Boston Celtics may not end up being their best, regardless of the fact that they're going to be missing Isaiah Thomas for a couple more months. There's a long season ahead; who knows where things will end up by April. What Wade's role will be is equally a mystery, as he has never been in a spot like this in his career.

No matter how it works out, this is just another chapter in what has been a fascinating relationship between two future Hall of Famers. There's really nothing to compare it to in league history. They've influenced and supported each other in situations both from the challenging to the awkward.

Wade was a rock for James in his first year in Miami, not only helping him handle the immense pressure that surrounded that team, but also easing James' immersion into one of the most demanding organizations in the league. In the 2011 Finals, Wade was masterful and was far and away the Heat's best player as he tried to carry a zombie version of James to a title.

Yet it was Wade who came to James the following season, after the lockout, and told James that he needed to take over the team. Wade, the greatest player in Miami Heat franchise history and still in his prime, voluntarily took a step back to let James flourish. James won the next two MVPs, and the Heat won the next two titles.

This is the sort of stuff James is talking about when he says of Wade: "When you can be honest with somebody no matter what's going on and your games translate, it works very easily. He tells me when I F up, and I tell him the same thing. We get on each other. We've always been like that, especially four years that we played with one another, and even before that when just used to text. I watched his games and told him things he could've done better and vice versa. It's just a brotherhood that we have."

Despite that sentiment, James hasn't always been candid with Wade.

In 2014, he didn't tell Wade of his plans to return to Cleveland. They famously took a five-hour flight together from Las Vegas to Miami after James had decided to return to Cleveland, after he'd given his interview to Sports Illustrated, and after Wade had opted out of his contract and was a free agent himself and twisting in the wind with the league frozen waiting on James' decision. Wade later said he had a hunch, but he didn't know; he got a heads up only shortly before the rest of the world found out.

When he signed with the Cavs last month, Wade estimated he'd left $30 million on the table to help his teams during his career.

"I kept playing basketball until I decided to walk away from it, but it's costing me money," Wade said.

It's reasonably easy to check his math, and Wade is correct. Helping make room for all the Heat players in 2010, Wade left more than James or Chris Bosh did. He signed for $23 million less than he could have that summer.

When James kept him in the dark in 2014, he ended up accepting a $5 million pay cut for the next season. Had James told him of his decision in advance, Wade probably could've gotten millions more. Yet in the wake of that, the two grew closer than they ever had been before, with Wade telling Heat fans to take it easy on James when he made his return.

In taking a buyout from the Chicago Bulls this summer and signing a minimum deal with the Cavs, Wade left $5.9 million behind. The $30 million figure he quoted is conservative. And a lot of it was to put himself in position to be with and, frankly, support James.

"For me, coming to Cleveland is comfort," Wade said. "I'm playing with a guy -- I've lost championships with that guy, I've won championships with that guy. So, definitely made it comfortable to walk in here and be myself."

The relationship hasn't been only one way. Two of Wade's rings came because of James' greatness. When Wade went through terrible knee issues in 2013-14, James was there to shoulder the load. But if there's a still a debt between the friends, it's fair to say the IOU is probably in Wade's pocket.

Many a scout and analyst has opined in the past two weeks that Wade and Rose aren't a modern backcourt because of their shooting deficiencies. Lue is bending to the situation by planning to take Rose out early in the game, ostensibly to have him rest to run the second unit, but with the side benefit that it minimizes the time Rose and Wade are together on the court.

Whatever, the X's and O's are just that. It is about much more than stretching the floor and plus/minus data. At least for now. It's way deeper and more personal for the two 15-year veterans.

"At the end of the day, we're going to be brothers no matter what," James said recently about Wade. "I want to get him comfortable and let him know how he can help us."