The delicate ballet of balancing egos has been a time-honored tradition on LeBron James–led teams since 2010. The shifts in role and dynamic from top to bottom that invariably occur playing alongside the best player in the world, at this point, almost feel like additional levels willfully added to a video game that James has yet to finish. We watched as the Heatles figured out their three-headed Hydra dynamic in real time during the 2010-11 season; we saw it in the way both LeBron and Chris Bosh held their noses and moved up a position to fulfill Erik Spoelstra’s vision of how the Heat could blow the rest of the league out of the water; and we saw it in the “fit-out” subtweets to Kevin Love in 2015. I don’t think we have to rehash the Kyrie Irving saga; even that is ancient history now. The team is moving on trying to solve newer (older) issues.
Tyronn Lue says he has named Dwyane Wade his starting shooting guard to start the season. J.R. Smith will come off the bench.— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) October 9, 2017
On Monday, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue named Dwyane Wade the starting shooting guard for the beginning of the regular season as the team waits for Isaiah Thomas. Presumably, this locks in a starting lineup of Wade, James, Derrick Rose, Jae Crowder, and Kevin Love for Cleveland’s October 17 game against the Boston Celtics. I’m not a betting man, but I don’t know if I’d count on the lineup lasting any longer than the first 10 games of the season. Adding Rose and Wade to a starting lineup with Love at the 5—for a team that was one of the 10 worst in the league on defense last season—sounds like a recipe for a stomachache. It shouldn’t take LeBron any more time to realize that ego-ball is not the optimal solution for counteracting the Warriors’ temple of selfless play.
The big issue here is that life keeps trying to pair an aging Wade with a (once and former) Bulls star who at best overlaps his skill set and at worse snuffs out the utility Wade can still provide at a high level. As good of a cutter as Wade can be when he’s playing off the ball, he’s still at his best when he can use his size at the lead guard spot to make plays for himself or others. Starting either Wade or Rose at the 1 would have meant both players would have their time to revive some semblance of their old roles as primary creators—one with the starters, one with the reserves. Starting both Rose and Wade instead of staggering, however, means J.R. Smith, who is a reliable 3-and-D option on some of the Cavs’ most dangerous lineups, is once again relegated to the bench. Which is fine, except that what he provides to the team in terms of spacing won’t be replaced, it’ll be disintegrated. Last season, in a league more reliant on the 3-point shot than ever before, Rose averaged fewer than one deep-range attempt per game, his lowest count since his sophomore season. Playing both Wade and Rose together with LeBron invariably means playing off-ball for each player, and it’s a lot easier to imagine Wade adapting to that role than Rose; the former Heat star has already proved his ability to sublimate his ego in Miami.
With all the new faces, there was always going to be an adjustment period—not only for Cleveland, but for the entire league. On paper, it doesn’t seem like the Cavs are doing themselves any favors in helping LeBron figure out the puzzle at hand.