Now, though, Wade and James have joined together one more time. The Cavaliers announced on Wednesday that they had signed Wade to a one-year deal worth $2.3 million. It was one last, semi-splashy move for the league as players adjust to the demands of training camp, and preseason games begin to approach. A host of N.B.A. stars realigned themselves over the summer with the shared goal, however futile, of stalking the Warriors. Now the Cavaliers have done the same, as modest as the acquisition of Wade may seem.
Speaking with reporters in Cleveland on Wednesday, James said that for him, it was all starting to feel like the first day of school.
“And your best friend is in your class,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”
This week, before the signing was official, James praised Wade’s “championship pedigree” and his “basketball mind.” After a tumultuous off-season for the Cavaliers, who honored Kyrie Irving’s trade request by dealing him to the Boston Celtics, James sounded almost giddy. He knew he was about to get to play with his pal again.
“Obviously, I’ve talked to D-Wade throughout the whole summer,” James said.
Wade, a 12-time All-Star, adds notable depth to the Cavaliers’ backcourt. Irving is gone. Isaiah Thomas, whom the Cavaliers acquired from the Celtics as part of that trade, is an intriguing replacement but could be sidelined until January because of a hip injury. And Derrick Rose, who signed a bargain-bin deal with Cleveland as a free agent, has two surgically repaired knees.
There are no guarantees with Wade, either. At 35, he is fairly old by N.B.A. standards. But he was productive with the Bulls last season, averaging 18.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game. If he was not the most efficient scorer in the league — he shot a career-low 43.4 percent from the field — he should benefit from playing alongside James, which is an obvious point but one still worth making. Because James draws so much attention from defenders, Wade will not need to create as much for himself.
The Warriors, meanwhile, have had a gravitational pull on the entire league, as stars search for ways to merely compete with them. Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, after demanding trades, joined Russell Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder. Irving and Gordon Hayward now play for the Celtics. The Houston Rockets traded for Chris Paul, who will pair with James Harden in their backcourt. And then there are the Cavaliers.
James said on Monday that he intended to finish his career in Cleveland, but he is due to become a free agent next summer. So much can happen between now and then, and so much of his future with the organization could hinge on the balky knees and hips of Wade, Rose and Thomas. These are the variables beyond his control.
But James seems motivated — by the Cavaliers’ loss to the Warriors in the 2017 finals, by Irving’s unexpected departure, by Wade’s arrival. He is relishing a new challenge.
“That’s why I sit up here today, still in this uniform, still ready to lead this franchise to a championship, put us in a position where we can be successful,” he said.
At the same time, credit the Cavaliers and Koby Altman, their new general manager, for regrouping when it all could have fallen apart when Irving asked out. If nothing else, they are giving themselves a real shot at a fourth straight trip to the finals.
Not so long ago, when Wade and James were teammates in Miami, they created the blueprint for the future Warriors, influencing the way in which many stars would approach their careers in the years to come: by getting together.
And now, older and in a different city, but with the same lofty ambitions, Wade and James are together again, too.
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