As two young scorers continue to impress for the Miami Heat, Dion Waiters seems more expendable than ever.
Waiters joined the Heat as a free agent in the summer of 2016. Then 25 years old, Waiters was coming off his least productive season as a pro. He signed a two-year contract worth $6 million with a player option in the second year.
Waiters flourished in his first year with Miami, averaging career-highs of 15.8 points and 4.3 assists while having his most efficient season at the time. Although he only appeared in 46 games, Waiters declined his player option and re-signed with the Heat. His four-year deal worth $52 million seemed like Miami was securing one of their best scorers for the foreseeable future.
Now, all signs point to Waiters being unhappy in Miami. The Heat drafted shooting guard Tyler Herro 13th overall in the 2019 draft and it seems as if it isn’t sitting well with Waiters. He responded to Instagram comments, taking exception to someone saying Herro is better than him and undermining Erik Spoelstra’s coaching skills.
Waiters was suspended before the team’s season opener for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
In the preseason, Herro put up team-highs of 14.2 points and 2.8 3-pointers made per game. He also recorded per-game averages of 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.0 steals while shooting 51.9 percent from 3.
Waiters played almost half the minutes Herro did and it seems as though he isn’t on board with Miami’s sharpshooting rookie getting more minutes than him. Waiters claims that’s not the case, according to Sun Sentinal’s Ira Winderman
This time, Waiters responded to an Instagram post that questioned his willingness to accept a reserve role, the role he had been cast in by coach Erik Spoelstra during the preseason. In response, Waiters posted, “It’s not my ego. I’ll play whateva role it’s has nothing to do with basketball. I seen the writing on the wall.”
To make things worse, Herro isn’t even the only young wing that’s playing well for Miami. Undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn has made his case for getting playing time by dropping 40 points in Miami’s final preseason game and playing very well in their first regular-season game.
Herro and Nunn helped lead Miami to victory in their season opener against the Memphis Grizzlies. Nunn was second on the team in scoring with 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He also chipped in three assists and two steals. Herro recorded 14 points as well as eight rebounds and two steals.
The scoring ability of Nunn and Herro helped Miami outscore Memphis 37-17 in the fourth quarter and win by 19 points. In addition to missing Waiters, the Heat also didn’t have Jimmy Butler due to personal reasons.
With Butler, the team’s marquee addition, being brought back into the rotation, Waiters’ minutes will likely dry up quickly. For the sake of both Waiters and the team, Miami should now consider Waiters a trade chip. It seems as though it’s best for both sides if they split.
Although it’s beneficial for Miami to see him as a trade chip, using him as one may be difficult. The remaining money on Waiters’ contract is a bit steep. He is owed $24.75 million over the next two seasons. For a soon-to-be 28-year-old with a large history of injuries, teams may deem his contract too expensive to take on.
Miami could attach an asset to Waiters in a deal, but they don’t have many to offer. Most of their young players are valuable contributors for them and they are missing the majority of their future draft capital. The best assets they could offer at the moment without giving up rotation players are KZ Okpala and a 2022 second-round draft pick.
One thing Waiters has going for him is that he is coming off his most efficient season. In the 2018-19 season, he averaged 10.9 field goal attempts (second-lowest of his career) and 6.6 3-point attempts per game (highest of his career). His true shooting percentage of 53.0 percent was the best of his career.
His shot distribution fits very well with the direction the NBA is trending in: more 3s and layups/dunks than mid-range shots. According to Cleaning the Glass, he only took 14 percent of his shots from mid-range last year. Most of his shots (58 percent of them) came from 3. The rest came at the rim.
Although this may be a product of playing in Spoelstra’s offense, it’s evidence that Waiters is familiar with the modern game.
Unfortunately, this is just about the only thing attractive about Waiters. Nothing else about his game is particularly strong. Waiters also problems with just being available to play. His previous three seasons have spanned less than 50 games.
While Miami seems to not have a need for Waiters anymore, his contract, injury history, and apparent displeasure with the Heat could make it tough to find a new home for him via trade. Still, it’s best for both sides to move on. The Heat can continue focusing on their promising youngsters and Waiters will get the opportunity to play more.