After botching his first formal player introduction at Quicken Loans Arena and running onto the court perhaps three seconds late, Dwyane Wade was almost sheepish.
The 35-year-old veteran guard was playing a new position, small forward, in the absence of friend LeBron James. He was wearing No. 9 after being forced to switch from the No. 3 he held for his entire college and pro career, that number now taken by Isaiah Thomas.
Adding to the confusion was that the Cavaliers have two players from Marquette.
"I heard 'Starting at forward, from Marquette' and immediately I was like, 'Jae Crowder.' So I'm sitting there like 'Yeah, Jae,' and he's like, 'It's you,'?" Wade said.
Even Crowder was confused, at first thinking the announcer had called for Wade.
"I did, too, until I heard No. 9," Crowder said. "He forgot what number he was, I guess."
For the Cavs starters, which included three new players, that may have been the biggest hiccup in the Cavs' preseason opener. Even with James sidelined with a sore left ankle, the first team excelled, playing only the first half of a 109-93 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
When that unit departed for the night, it had recorded 15 assists on 17 field goals and had built a 47-40 lead. Wade even started the game with a steal.
"You know, 35, first play I hit the ground. That was my welcome here," Wade said. "I think that's the mentality we're going to have, that it doesn't matter. You've got to do whatever it is asked of you. It did feel good to start off with a steal and get our offense going. We hit a 3 out of that, so it definitely felt great."
Derrick Rose, Wade and Crowder made their Cavs debuts – not counting Monday's Wine and Gold Scrimmage – and were still basking in the positives the next day.
Rose called it "the best team he's ever played on" and raved about the space he has to operate, and that's before James joins the mix.
Wade loves the team's vibe, its accountability, and sharing the backcourt with Rose and getting to know him.
Crowder liked the Cavs' energy as well as their spacing.
A 12-time All-Star, Wade spoke in glowing terms about Rose, a three-time All-Star and 2011 NBA MVP. And it's not just because both are from Chicago.
"I've seen Derrick since 1/8he was in3/8 second grade in Chicago, and I've followed his career. I've been a big fan," Wade said after practice Thursday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. "But I'd say the best thing is getting to know him. Everyone knows that he's a little quiet from the outside, but when it's teammates, you get to see a different side of him."
When Rose signed with the Cavs, he thought he was going to be the backup point guard behind Kyrie Irving. Then Irving was traded to the Celtics for point guard Thomas, out until perhaps Jan. 1, leaving Rose to direct the offense.
"I love where he's at right now. He's attacking, he's running the offense," Wade said of Rose. "His ability to score is always there."
Rose was just as complimentary of Wade.
"We're slashers. Just ballers, man. We're hoopers," Rose said. "We're going to get the job done one way or another. But one thing I love is that we love the game. He's always on his iPad looking at practice film. He's a student of the game. I'm the same way. Even though I don't look at the iPad before a game, I think I watch people enough, learn their tendencies, so that I don't have to go out there and have to be thinking."
For Rose, the spacing the Cavs had was striking.
"Man, man, it's the best team I ever played on," he said. "It's the most space I've ever seen on the floor ever since I came into the league. Looking like I'm going to be playing without a lot of double teams or without a lot of people loading up to me. This will be my first experience with that."
Last year with the Knicks, Rose said whenever he had the ball opponents would load to his side and make sure a big man met him at the rim.
"When you have a big like K-Love, they hug onto him because of the way he shoots the ball," Rose said.
Unlike Rose, Crowder has a familiarity with Wade, who returned to Marquette while with the Miami Heat.
"We sort of built a relationship from there on," Crowder said. "I was able to reach out to him when I needed to when I was in college and he sort of took on a big brother role for me."
Wade said Wednesday's lineup, which also included J.R. Smith at shooting guard, Crowder at power forward and Kevin Love at center, had five viable offensive threats.
"What all of us are getting comfortable with is when you're on the floor everyone is live," Wade said. "It's normally not like that. On most teams you have two guys and if you're good you have three guys. Once we get used to that we'll be an even better defensive team because right now we're a little slow getting back in transition because you're just not used to everybody being live."
Crowder said with Rose and Wade able to drive and all able to hit outside shots "you can definitely tell the floor is opening up."
"Without LeBron even being on the court, we were able to get the shots that we wanted on the offensive end," Crowder said. "That's a good thing for us moving forward."
Wednesday also marked Rose's 29th birthday, but he said his new team didn't embarrass him, merely singing, "Happy Birthday."
He wasn't wrapped up in the irony that his preseason debut with the Cavs came that day.
"I don't know. You may look at it like that, but it's a higher power," Rose said. "Everything happens for a reason. I'm a big believer in that."