So. It’s rebuilding time for the HEAT, where journeymen and NBA-hopefuls alike have brought their talents to South Beach. A far cry from the 2010 offseason when Pat Riley (or the players, depending on who’s asked) landed the “whales” LeBron James and Chris Bosh. In the years since, Riley’s become more akin to Captain Ahab than he’d probably be willing to admit. First, LeBron Ahab’ed Riley and bit his leg off before swimming back to Cleveland. Then, in full monomaniacal madness, Riley went after the next “whale” (read: Kevin Durant), but managed only to be dragged to the bottom of the ocean as Dwyane Wade made his way to Chicago.
Listen, I don’t blame Riley, but at some point along the journey to losing Wade, there was a failure of communication. Egos got in the way. (Again. As that’s probably what sent LeBron packing in the first place.) But that brings us to Dion Waiters. Wait, what?
The Waiters signing on Tuesday signaled an odd pivot during an already odd post-Wade signing spree. In the days after Wade agreed to sign with Chicago, Miami decided to add journeyman Wayne Ellington, Miami’s D-league affiliate standout Rodney McGruder, and match Brooklyn’s exorbitant $50 million offer sheet on Tyler Johnson. All this while having Josh Richardson waiting in the wings as a potential fill-in at the 2-guard spot. Part of what makes this move odd is the sudden crowding of the backcourt, especially when you add point guards Goran Dragic and Briante Weber to the mix. But the most odd part about this is, in order to be an effective player, Waiters needs to play. Moreover, he’ll need the ball in his hands. If Miami is eyeing the future, and it considers Richardson, Johnson, and Justise Winslow as major parts of that future, the Waiters signing becomes worrisome.
The worry really comes when you consider he’s a ISO-heavy player with questions regarding shot selection and decision making. I mean, this is a guy who had his teammates at Syracuse call him “Kobe Wade.” Last season, he shot less than 40% from the field, but did average 11 PPG as a starter. (He actually shot worse as a starter than coming off the bench. So, yeah.) Inserting an ISO, ball-reliant player into a starting lineup that now belongs largely to a pace-pushing Goran Dragic seems counterintuitive. Also, if the team is investing time in players like Josh Richardson and (a lot of) money in players like Tyler Johnson, having Waiters take minutes from them doesn’t really make sense. Similarly, having Waiters on the floor with Justise Winslow might retard his growth as well.
The good thing is, the Waiters signing seems like a low-risk/high-reward investment. The contract is for two-years and nearly $6 million, with a player option for the second year. That’s not much money for a 24-year old former Top-5 draft pick. He’s coming off a decent showing in the playoffs and should be motivated to rehabilitate his market value for a potential big pay day next offseason. Maybe the team has no intention of keeping Tyler Johnson once his contract balloons to $19 million, either by trading him or hoping the new CBA has another amnesty provision. Maybe the team sees Waiters as a good fit with Briante Weber, a Patrick Beverly-type 3-and-D point guard who doesn’t really need the ball. Who knows? Maybe Waiters is a low-key whale. The one thing we don’t have to worry about with Waiters is his wearing Wade’s old #3. He’ll don #11, last worn by Dorell Wright. Waiters will join Chris Andersen, Skip-2-My-Lou Rafer Alston, Todd Day, HEAT broadcaster John Crotty, and the General Sherman Douglas as some of the players who’ve worn #11.