Tension in the fragile relationship between Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters almost boiled over last season. And as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ pair of ball-dominant guards readies for basketball life with LeBron James, one of them will have to take a backseat. Given Irving’s All-Star caliber, his recent $90 million extension, and natural playmaking instincts, the onus falls on Waiters to make wholesale adjustments or risk falling by the wayside. Fortunately for coach David Blatt and the Cavs, Waiters says he plans to do just that as a result of James’ homecoming.
“I have to make adjustments,” Waiters said. “I like to have the ball, and we have Kyrie, and he likes to have the ball. So I have to find ways to impact the game without having the ball.”
That strain of self-awareness has been notably absent throughout the first two seasons of Waiters’ career. The rift between he and franchise cornerstone Irving is well-known, and Waiters has frequently exercised selfish shot-selection and dismal defensive effort for the Cavs. His nagging penchant for walking back to the other end of the floor after an offensive possession has become a humorous – or depressing? – talking point among league followers, too.
But for all his warts, Waiters has talent. The fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft is a canny penetrator, gifted shot-maker, and unique athlete that has the potential to make a positive impact on both sides of the ball. It’s Waiters’ decision-making and overall attitude that’s held him back most thus far. Unlike in previous seasons, though, the Cavaliers won’t have to endure his fixable flaws going forward; LeBron’s presence changes everything, including Cleveland’s tolerance level for gifted but volatile youngsters.
Waiters surely understands his new reality, and is actually primed to thrive in it should he make good on his promises. He even invokes the name of the player to which he was oft-compared as a draft prospect for a blueprint to success.
“I’m planning to go watch tape to see what D-Wade did when he played with LeBron. I need to learn how to be effective out there with him…
“[Wade] is a ball-dominant guard, too, and when LeBron came over, he had to change his game, too,” Waiters said. “He was so efficient, though, and that really helped their game. I think I can learn a lot from what he did.”
A player striving to act as a reasonable Wade facsimile and actually doing it, however, are two very different things. He and James didn’t just have a seemingly preternatural sense of the other’s presence on the court, but had established themselves as elite singular talents by the time they came together, too. Waiters is still in his embryonic stages; sacrificing touches and freedom for the good of the team hasn’t been so easy for players his age in the past.
But Waiters can certainly do at least that much if committed. These turnstile sentiments are especially encouraging considering his recent (since-deleted) tweet that decried the possibility of coming off the bench this season.
Whether Cleveland parts with Andrew Wiggins in a trade for Kevin Love or not, conventional wisdom says that Waiters will play a reserve role for the LeBron-led Cavs. Blatt will have plenty of playmaking and scoring in his starting lineup with Irving and James, and his bench would be left thin by pigeonholing Waiters between them.
And if his new mentality is to be believed, Waiters won’t only not mind acting as Cleveland’s sixth man, but will thrive playing that part, too.
Will Waiters be with the Cavs for the long-haul?
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