The NBA season is on the verge of tipoff, which means Dion Waiters of the Heat is ahead of schedule. He’s already earned a one-game suspension for, “unprofessional conduct,” after he apparently aimed a fit of anger at coach Erik Spoelstra on the bench during Miami’s final preseason game, against Houston on Friday.
In a statement, team president Pat Riley said, “There were a number of unacceptable incidents this week, culminating with his unprofessional conduct on the bench last night. As a consequence, I feel we had to suspend him.”
The next consideration, naturally, is what will become of Waiters, who usually has the common decency to wait until midseason or so to cause a ruckus within the Heat locker room. A check with multiple front-office executives to gauge trade interest in Waiters didn’t bode well for Miami.
It would appear he’s not going anywhere.
“They’ve been trying to trade him since last Christmas,” one GM told Heavy.com. “No one was trying to take him on then. After this kind of thing, it would be really hard to take him on now. He has had this kind of junk attached to him just about his whole career.”
Waiters has two years remaining on his contract, at more than $12 million per year. That’s not entirely prohibitive. The Heat could probably unload Waiters if they attached a draft pick to the contract, but Miami is woefully short on available draft assets, having dealt away its first-rounders in 2021 and 2023 (the next first-round pick the Heat can trade is 2025) and all but one second-round pick in the next seven years.
Waiters didn’t help anything by poking around on Instagram and writing, “lol” when a fan suggested rookie guard Tyler Herro is better than him. He also skewered coach Erik Spoelstra, who led the LeBron James-Dwayne Wade-Chris Bosh Heat to two championships, saying, “I would win if I had Bron and Wade plus Bosh.”
So, now what?
The Warriors were mentioned as a potential Waiters destination this offseason, but that was pure speculation. A source told Heavy.com that Golden State in no way inquired about Waiters in the past year.
The Pistons are badly in need of a versatile wing like Waiters and might make some sense as a potential destination. But coach Dwane Casey had Detroit playing well in the second part of last year and is not much interested in adding a volatile chemistry problem like Waiters to the mix.
Waiters Had Extensive Baggage Before Signing With the Heat
That’s the case with most of the NBA. Waiters is capable of singlehandedly winning a game when he’s hot but also capable of unraveling a team’s morale on his own. His scoring ability makes him an ideal sixth man but Waiters does not like coming off the bench.
Within the organization, there was some relief that Waiters was suspended, a signal that his antics won’t be tolerated. The main issue for Waiters appears to be the deterioration of his minutes, which probably won’t improve much with the rise of rookie guard Tyler Herro, a potential starter.
Spoelstra played Waiters only 10 minutes on Friday, after playing 11 the previous game. Waiters missed a game due to personal reasons and averaged only 14.3 minutes in the preseason, all off the bench.
This type of complaint isn’t new for Waiters. The Heat endured much the same issue last January when Waiters returned from nearly a year off after ankle surgery and was being brought along slowly by Spoelstra. Five games into his return, after playing 12 minutes in a blowout loss to the Bucks, Waiters told the Miami Herald, “F— patience! I want to play. I’ve been patient long enough. What do I got to be patient for?”
That led to a team meeting to discuss the comments and was also the start, sources said, of an earnest attempt to move Waiters.
Waiters’ malcontent history stretches back, in fact, to his time in Cleveland, when he allegedly had a locker room scuffle that left guard Kyrie Irving with a black eye and broken nose (Waiters denied that) back in 2013. He was traded from the Cavs in 2015 after clashing with coach David Blatt over his role.
Here he is, four years later, still clashing with his coach over his role. But it’s unlikely the Heat will be able to deal him the way Cleveland did.