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The LeBron-Wade duo is reunited, and the stakes are as high as ever

Seven years ago, with the entire basketball world watching, a thick-bearded, checkered-shirt-donning LeBron James announced his decision to take his talents to South Beach to pursue championships.

In doing so, James made sacrifices to both his ego and his wallet. He was joining a Miami Heat franchise and fan base that clearly belonged to Dwyane Wade, while taking a $15 million haircut on the maximum contract he could've received in order to make the numbers work.

This Wade-LeBron partnership is different, but the stakes are still high. Bobby Metelus/Getty Images
This time around, it's Wade coming to play in James' sandbox and making his own concessions to do so. He left $8 million on the table when he accepted a buyout from the Chicago Bulls, and then he went for the veteran's minimum offer of $2.3 million from the Cleveland Cavaliers when Miami ($4.2 million) and the San Antonio Spurs ($3.3 million) had more money available for him.

James needed Wade in 2010 to shake off the stigma that was attached to him, fair or not, for failing in the game's biggest moments. Wade needs James now to resurrect his reputation as a surefire Hall of Famer -- perhaps the third-best shooting guard ever to play the game -- after his celebrated Chicago homecoming soured.

Their initial partnership was a smashing success: four trips to the NBA Finals in four years, two NBA championships and an incredible 27-game winning streak mixed in. Not as much is expected of the pair this time around in terms of longevity, but there is still a high bar for what would be considered achievement. With Wade turning 36 in January and James turning 33 in December and both ostensibly on one-year deals in Cleveland (James has an opt-out clause this summer), the directive is championship or bust.

Winning a ring together in James' backyard would not only fortify both of their legacies in the sport, as they would become just the 39th and 40th players to win four championships or more in their careers, but Wade also could become just as beloved in Ohio as he is in Florida. Another Larry O'Brien Trophy in June almost assuredly means James will re-up with the Cavs and extend his contract.

The NBA is still feeling the reverberations from the first time these two got together, with James' decision serving as the tipping point for an avalanche of superstar player movement in the subsequent years that has been controlled just as much, and if not more, by the players than the teams that employ them.

Wade and James' reunion, if it results in a ring, could change the course of basketball history once again, as that looming basketball superteam the Los Angeles Lakers are so desperately hoping to build next summer -- by adding James and another max-salary guy to their collection of young talent -- might never materialize.

To expect Wade to be the lone difference-maker in a potential Cavs-Warriors Part IV showdown would be folly. He's not the same player he was when James joined the Heat in 2010. In fact, he's far from it. He shot a career-low 43.4 percent for the Bulls last season and averaged the fewest points (18.3) since his rookie year, all while battling an elbow injury in his shooting arm. There's not even a guarantee he starts; JR Smith is a better defender and long-range shooter who has been a vital cog in the Cavs' run the past three years.

Wade's efficiency will likely rise with Cleveland as he and James fall back into their game-within-the-game one-upmanship of seeing who can shoot it better. Wade maxed out at a career-best 54.5 percent from the floor in 2013-14, while James shot a career-best 56.7 percent that same season.

Where Wade can be most valuable in the regular season is as a friend, confidant, sounding board and road dog for James to keep things fresh as they slog through the 82-game grind in what will be their 15th season in the league.

Then in the playoffs, Wade's addition will give the Cavs the type of depth they sorely missed against Golden State in June, when the Warriors outscored Cleveland's bench 113-69 in their four Finals wins.

Wade has logged more than 32,000 minutes on those legs of his, but he still possesses playmaking instincts. And "playmaker" became a sort of naughty word for James last season as he uttered it with disdain on several occasions while comparing the Cavs' roster to those of other elite teams around the league.

Yes, parting with an in-his-prime Kyrie Irving is losing a ton of playmaking ability. But filling that void with three additional playmakers in Wade, Derrick Rose and Isaiah Thomas -- no matter what their flaws and injury concerns are -- at least feasibly gives the Cavs the chance to say they have more players with that skill set than they did last year.

Wade is taking his talents, whatever is left of them, to Lake Erie and trusting that LeBron will be just as hospitable to his career as Wade was to LeBron's.

Author: Dave McMenamin, ESPN
Source: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/20834480/will-lebron-james-dwyane-wade-shake-nba-landscape-again-nba

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