'My big little man': Contract extension for Cavs forward Dean Wade thrills 'Grandma T'

INDEPENDENCE — After reaching agreement on a three-year, $18.5 million contract extension that was finalized Tuesday, Cavaliers forward Dean Wade didn’t hesitate to show off a message from one of his biggest supporters.

“Grandma T” was thrilled, just as she has been at every stage as Wade rises through the NBA ranks as an undrafted four-year starter at Kansas State.

“She actually just texted me. Look, Grandma T, right there,” Wade said Monday, showing off his phone. “‘I’m proud of you, my big little man.’

“That’s my grandma, she’s been super excited. She doesn’t know how to act.”

Cleveland Cavaliers' Dean Wade (32) shoots against Golden State Warriors' Kevon Looney (5) and Draymond Green (23) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Cleveland Cavaliers' Dean Wade (32) shoots against Golden State Warriors' Kevon Looney (5) and Draymond Green (23) in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Wade, 25, has been talking about his grandmother, who lives in Hutchinson, Kansas, since he signed a two-way contract with the Cavs in 2019-20. He showed enough that his contract was converted after that season and his $1.5 million salary for 2020-21 became fully guaranteed that February.

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Wade kept working, kept gaining respect from the coaching staff and front office. Now the Cavs have locked him up through the 2025-26 season and Wade is guaranteed $16.5 million over the span of the new deal.

It might be time for a gift for Grandma T, Wade agreed.

“She’d be like, ‘No, you’re not getting me anything. I won’t take it. She’s a liar,” Wade joked.

'I'm thankful for the whole organization, the coaching staff and everything'

He wasn’t joking about the commitment the Cavs made to him over the weekend.

“It means everything to me,” he said after practice Tuesday at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “When I left college, I broke my foot my senior year, so I didn't have high hopes myself at the time. I was feeling pretty down but, got the opportunity to have some pre-draft workouts, did them, and luckily got an opportunity.

“I'm thankful for the whole organization, the coaching staff and everything, they just gave me a real opportunity to show what I can do, and I got lucky and they kept me. I mean, it's been a crazy, crazy journey.”

It's been a wild summer for Wade. After he recovered from meniscus surgery on his right knee March 28 that cost him 15 games, the Cavs picked up his fourth-year option on June 22. He got married in Manhattan, Kansas, on Aug. 20. He still hasn’t had a honeymoon, with weddings to attend every weekend.

Since Saturday, he’s heard from several people who haven't reached out in years, including texts from former AAU teammates he hasn’t talked to “in forever."

“It's pretty funny. I just laugh. I got a lot of old numbers that I haven't seen pop on my phone and I'm talking like 10 years,” he said.

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' Dean Wade (32) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Cleveland. The Warriors won 104-89. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) drives against Cleveland Cavaliers' Dean Wade (32) in the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Cleveland. The Warriors won 104-89. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

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Dean Wade's growth as a basketball player

Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said Wade’s contract extension is “what makes this league so much fun.”

“No two stories are the same,” Bickerstaff said. “There is an opportunity for four-year guys in our league to make a career in it. It shows guys' willingness to persevere. You get told 'No' basically by every team in the league twice, but then you have the internal fortitude to keep working and believing in yourself and go out and prove that you're a rotation player.”

Bickerstaff said the key to Wade’s growth has been an understanding of how he fits.

“He is uniquely, for his size, a really good perimeter defender,” Bickerstaff said of Wade, 6-foot-9 and 219 pounds. “He can guard different positions, 1 through 5 we've made him guard throughout his time here, and he does a great job of keeping 'em in front of him.

“He takes challenges; we put him on All-Stars … point guards. He goes out and takes those challenges head-on and has proven to do a pretty good job at it.”

'That ferocity, that's what we want to see out of Dean all the time'

He’s also pretty good at dunks, as he proved in a victory over the Toronto Raptors on March 6. He posterized Raptors’ 6-9 center Khem Birch, then skipped down the court at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse while fans went crazy.

"Yeah, we knew it, we were trying to get his ass to do it," Bickerstaff said that night. "We’ve seen Dean dunk on people quite a bit. He’s extremely athletic, but that ferocity, that's what we want to see out of Dean all the time."

March 6: Cavaliers forward Dean Wade (32) rises up for the monster one-handed slam over Raptors defender Khem Birch (24) during the second half in Cleveland.
March 6: Cavaliers forward Dean Wade (32) rises up for the monster one-handed slam over Raptors defender Khem Birch (24) during the second half in Cleveland.

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Asked Tuesday if Wade had another one of those in him, Bickerstaff said, “He's got plenty of 'em. That's the thing we keep talking to Dean about is like, he's just scratching the surface.

“We believe sometimes that he's a better player than he may believe at times because there is more there. And I think as his confidence grows and his opportunities grow, we'll see a lot more of those things.”

Asked if he’d been working on another dunk, Wade said, “Not me. I’ll see what I can do.”

But he has kept track of snippets of advice from Bickerstaff over the years when their joking conversations turn serious.

“He said, ‘Put in the work and it'll show,’” Wade recalled. “That's what he told me when I was a rookie and I took it to heart and I came in every day. The other coaches, they helped me move along through my career. Everyone's just been super helpful for me.

“But J.B. has always told me, ‘Just be aggressive. You know where you should be on defense, just be there. Talk loud even if you're wrong, just be loud. And just keep working.’”

Where Dean Wade fits into Cleveland's rotation

With that mindset and work ethic, Wade is one of six players battling in training camp for the Cavs’ open spot at small forward. The contract extension may indicate Wade is a legitimate candidate, but Wade will trust in whatever Bickerstaff decides.

“The coaching staff has been unbelievable,” Wade said. “A lot of it has to do with my teammates, the coaching staff, not even me. They put me in the right positions to be successful. I just had a small job, I just had to take care of business.”

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cavaliers' Dean Wade one of NBA's undrafted success stories