INDEPENDENCE — It was hard for Dwyane Wade to leave his native Chicago, but he’s thrilled to be joining good friend LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
That became official early Wednesday evening when the 35-year-old Wade signed for the veteran minimum of $2.3 million after agreeing to leave $8 million on the table to be bought out of his $23.8 million contract with the rebuilding Bulls.
Wade practiced with his new Cleveland teammates Wednesday evening, but will be out of town Thursday attending to personal matters. The 12-time All-Star and three-time NBA champion will resume practicing with the Cavs on Friday and meet with the media at some point that day.
“In the hopes of pursuing a fourth championship … I am excited to share that I will be joining the Cleveland Cavaliers this season,” Wade said in a statement. “There’s no better place to be right now to continue to play and compete at the highest level.
“Cleveland believes in my talents and what I can bring to a championship contender both as a player and leader. I look forward to reuniting and playing alongside my brother LeBron. We’ve already won two championships together and I hope we win a third.”
James and Wade, who repeatedly praised Chicago in his statement, were together for four seasons in Miami (2010-14) and the Heat reached the NBA Finals each year, winning titles in 2012 and 2013.
“That’s one of my best friends,” James said after the Cavs’ first practice Wednesday. “It’s kind of like when you start school and you walk into the classroom and you’re not quite sure who your classmates (are going to be). And when you walk in there and one of your best friends is in there, you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is going to be fun. This is going to be a good class.’ That’s the feeling I’ve got.”
To make room for Wade on their 20-man training camp roster, the Cavs released rookie forward JaCorey Williams, who had joined the team a day earlier.
“We’re extremely happy that Dwyane chose to join us in Cleveland and become a core part of helping us achieve success at the highest level,” general manager Koby Altman said in a statement. “Dwyane has proven time and again that he is a leader and competitor of the highest caliber and that his focus is centered on the ultimate goal.
“The deep commitment and consistency that he has shown to the game as a 12-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion is remarkable, and he’s going to be a difference-maker on the court and in the locker room with our team.”
The Cavs now have 16 players with guaranteed contracts. They can keep 15 in the regular season, plus two other players on two-way contracts with the G League.
Cleveland already had J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert at Wade’s shooting guard position, with James, Kyle Korver and several others also capable of playing there.
Smith is the incumbent starter, but it will be interesting to see who coach Tyronn Lue will trot out for the opening tip in the Oct. 17 season opener against Boston and beyond. Lue wouldn’t discuss Wade specifically after his team’s first practice Wednesday because the 15th-year pro had not yet officially signed, but he doesn’t foresee a problem.
“If you want to win and you’re really about winning, everybody has to sacrifice,” Lue said. “There’s going to be a lot of guys at that position, which is a great problem to have. The minutes are going to be sporadic (for some players), but it will be my job to make sure we get all the people clicked on the right cylinders, the right rotations, the right combinations.”
Chosen by Miami four spots after Cleveland took James with the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, Wade averaged 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the Bulls last season. For his career, he is averaging 23.3, 4.8 and 5.7.
Wade, who also led the Heat to a title in 2006, is a markedly different player than Smith, so Lue will have to determine what groups of players fit best.
For that reason, there’s a chance catch-and-shoot specialist Smith could remain in the starting lineup, because without him the only quality 3-point shooter on the floor would be power forward Kevin Love, plus the streaky James.
A penetrator and mid-range shooter who scores primarily off the dribble, Wade also could click so well with his new teammates that he starts from the outset; or he might move into the lineup when Isaiah Thomas is healthy, since Thomas is a much more lethal 3-point threat than current starting point guard Derrick Rose.
Either way, James is confident the Cavs got better Wednesday.
“When you’ve got a basketball mind and a high IQ about the game, then it’s a lot easier for you to make the transition,” he said, adding, “We’re blessed to have a player the caliber of D-Wade join us.”
James was instrumental in recruiting Wade, but he also credited general manager Koby Altman and the rest of the front office.
“Ain’t no sell (needed),” the four-time league MVP said. “Just tell him what we’re about here and how he can help our ballclub and how much we can benefit and how much he can benefit from us all being together.”
Due to knee and back injuries, plus age, Wade is not the dominating, dynamic player he once was — and especially not for long stretches of a game or season — but James is confident his friend will benefit from all the talent the Cavs can put around him.
“He doesn’t have to worry about ever seeing a double team,” the small forward said. “He doesn’t ever have to worry about taking tough shots.”
Almost Melo, too
Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony are James’ best friends in the league, and there was a time in the offseason when it looked like Anthony, who eventually was traded from New York to Oklahoma City, might be coming to Cleveland.
“From a friend perspective, I wish he had came and we could have worked some things out,” James said. “But at the end of the day, I think our front office has done a great job.”
Wade wore No. 3 for his first 14 years in the NBA, but Thomas had already chosen that number with the Cavs. Wade will wear No. 9 with the Cavs, the number he wore with USA Basketball. Rookie Cedi Osman, who had No. 9, will choose a new number.
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