Even the most high-profile impending free agents generally like to keep their options open when asked about the upcoming summer. They’ll insist they’d like to stay in their current city, but be sure to praise pretty much every other stop along the way, just in case any potential suitor is listening.
Not Dion Waiters. He wants to be a member of the Miami Heat for the foreseeable future.
“I want to get it done as quick as possible,” he told the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson. “Let’s keep this thing rolling by any means. I don’t want to go into free agency with a couple days and make a decision. I don’t want that. I know where I want to be. Let’s just get it done. My mom loves it here. Would be mad at me [if I left]. My son loves it. My family loves it.”
This seems like a horrible negotiating ploy, especially in Miami, where team president Pat Riley has driven hard bargains with even the biggest of NBA names, like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But Waiters is at his third stop in five seasons since being drafted fourth overall in 2012, and it’s nice to see a guy who’s struggled to find his place in the league finally feel comfortable in one location.
Then again, he made similar remarks last year when asked if he would re-sign in Oklahoma City:
“Of course,” Waiters told The Oklahoman in May 2017. “Why not? Since I got here I feel as though they have helped me become a better person off the court. It’s not even about basketball. I’ve never been connected with a group of guys like this that I’m actually close to. Why not? The best fans in the world. I’m definitely looking forward to coming back.”
So, maybe he’s not much of a negotiator, after all. He signed a two-year, $5.9 million deal with the Heat this past summer, including a player option for 2017-18 — a bargain for a player most folks figured would be overpaid based on his impressive postseason run with the Thunder last spring.
In Miami, he’s found a home, averaging career highs of 16.1 points, 4.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds, while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range for the first time in his career. During Miami’s remarkable 20-5 stretch since Jan. 17, which included a record-setting run of 13 straight wins for a sub-.500 team and vaulted the depleted Heat within a half-game of the playoffs, Waiters has been even better, averaging 19.1 points and five assists as a starter for a team that owns the league’s best record over that span.
What’s more, Waiters has been at his best in the clutch, drilling dagger after dagger in wins against the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, among others. The biggest knocks against him have always been shot selection and court awareness. Whether he’s adapted to the game or the game has adapted to him, we can’t be sure, but for whatever reason his irrational confidence works in Miami.
“With him, a lot of times it’s easy to get a bad rap because he’s so confident that sometimes it rubs people the wrong way because we live in a sensitive society,” backcourt mate Tyler Johnson told the Miami Herald. “He’s more of an alpha male. If you don’t match his intensity, he can walk over you. What’s good on our team is we have a lot of alpha males. He’s in a place where he feels like people care about him as a person.
“D-Waiters has a crazy confidence about him whether he’s playing good or playing bad. We allow him to be himself because we know it brings out the best in our team. We don’t try to tell him, ‘Why are you acting like this?’ We like for him to be himself. When he’s being the best version of himself, he brings out the best in a lot of people.”
♫ WAITERS' ISLE THEME SONG ♫
I'm not going to say this is a masterpiece, but you're welcome.https://t.co/dAxsMUVGXT
— Dan Sharfin (@VoiceOverDan) March 9, 2017
True to form, Waiters, who once stated his belief he could be the NBA’s best shooting guard and allegedly had his Syracuse teammates call him “Kobe Wade,” isn’t satisfied with fitting in on the Heat. He wants to be remembered in Miami the same way as Wade — the franchise’s favorite son who spent his first 13 seasons in the city and led the Heat to three titles. More from the Miami Herald feature:
“We’ve got the same initials, our games are similar,” Waiters said. “Difference is, he’s got them three rings. He’s a Finals MVP. Top three best shooting guards all time. I’m chasing that. He’s one of my favorite players, one of the players I idolized my game after. When he’s playing against me, I’m checking things he’s doing.
“Hopefully, one of these summers, we can get together and he can teach me some of the tricks of the trade of getting fouled more. I am definitely going to reach out to him to see if I can propel my game to a new level. That’s what the best players do. You see Kobe [Bryant] with Michael [Jordan]. A lot of guys go to Hakeem Olajuwon to learn. D-Wade’s my guy, one of the best players to ever play the game. It’s always been little brother, big brother from afar. I want to pick his brain.”
Above all, Waiters said he’s determined to prove he’s a winner.
“Every day I’m in the locker room, I always look at the [Heat championship] pictures, always look at the champagne showers. I have visions about that every day. I ain’t going to stop working until I get to that point.”
If you had said prior to the season Waiters would be putting up similar numbers on the Heat as Wade would be on the Chicago Bulls, the only one who would’ve believed you was probably Waiters himself.
Few things are more appropriate than Miami playing home to Waiters Island. His flashiness fits South Beach like a thong bikini, and he’s still only 25 years old. While everybody’s bet against him the past five years, Waiters keeps wagering on himself, and it could finally pay over in free agency this summer.
Meanwhile, somewhere Pat Riley is explaining why Waiters now needs to take a hometown discount.
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