SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Philadelphia native Dion Waiters was pumped about starting for the Cleveland Cavaliers against the 76ers on Monday night in front of his family and friends. But just as he was about to be introduced in the starting lineup, Waiters was told he wouldn't be playing because he had been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I'm starting, and right before my name gets called, I get the news when I'm ready to walk [on the court] during the [introductions]," Waiters said. "It was crazy.
"At least let me play since I'm going to get traded. Let this be my last game [for Cleveland] in Philly. Since OKC already went there, I can't even go back there [this season]. I was bitter a little bit. But I'm fine."
Waiters said Cavaliers director of player administration Raja Bell broke the news to him. Afterward, Waiters said he went back to the Cavs' team hotel and hung out with family and friends during the game.
The Thunder acquired Waiters in a three-team deal. Waiters averaged 14.3 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in two-plus seasons with Cleveland. In his debut for the Thunder, he came off the bench and missed eight of his nine shots in 22 minutes of OKC's 104-83 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.
"We're excited to have him," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game. "He brings toughness, a scorer and a competitor. I like guys that are going to compete when they are on the floor."
Said Waiters: "I get to come to an organization that has been to the Finals, young talented guys and there are big expectations here also. I'd love to be a part of something like that. I'm just glad it wasn't no bad organization or a team that is not playing for the playoffs."
Kevin Durant says Waiters can help fill the scoring void left by 2012 NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who was traded to the Houston Rockets prior to the 2012-13 season. Waiters actually wanted to wear Harden's old No. 13 for the Thunder after his favorite No. 3 wasn't available because Perry Jones III is wearing it. But Waiters said the Thunder wouldn't allow it, presumably because of Harden, so he instead took No. 23.
"I guess they want me to have my own identity," Waiters said. "We are going to make 23 look good, though."
The Cavaliers opened the season with major expectations with the return of LeBron James and the addition of Kevin Love and coach David Blatt to join Waiters and Kyrie Irving. The Cavaliers, however, owned a 19-16 record for fifth-place in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday's game against the Houston Rockets.
"We never really played together," Waiters said. "Of course, I played with 'Ky,' but we never played with 'Kev' or LeBron and those types of guys who dominated on the opposing team. For them to come to Cleveland, we all had to change our games for the betterment of the team.
"For instance, my scoring went down [along with] 'Ky.' We're used to having the ball, and with LeBron he needs the ball to facilitate, make plays and things like that. It was a chemistry thing that was still building."
Waiters reportedly clashed with Irving and wasn't happy about primarily not starting. He averaged career-lows of 10.5 points, 2.2 assists, 25.6 percent 3-point shooting and 23.8 minutes for Cleveland while coming off the bench in 30 of 33 games this season. Waiters also said he was "held back" from showing his game.
"I knew something was going to happen with everything that was going on with the way we were playing," Waiters said. "I just knew. I just sensed it."
Asked about his reputation and what the Thunder should expect, Waiters said: "You can't judge a book by its cover until you open up and read it. There are going be a million stories out there, true or not true. I say get to know me first before you judge me. Once that takes care of itself, everything else will fall into place."
Durant said he is fond of Waiters' toughness, ability to drive and pass, and take the pressure off Durant and Russell Westbrook scoring-wise.
"He's not just any other player," Durant said. "He can play. A lot of people overlooked that. He can play basketball, man, and he's had some huge games in this league. He is definitely somebody that is going to help us out. I'm excited to get him over here now."
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