Last night’s starry trade between the Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and New York Knicks basically amounts to the recycling of three talented head cases. Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith had worn out their welcome in New York and offer more immediate tangible value to Cleveland, and Dion Waiters was a shaky on-court fit for the Cavs that gives the Thunder additional flexibility as Reggie Jackson’s restricted free agency approaches.
In a basketball-only vacuum, Shumpert, Smith, and Waiters are similarly gifted players that boast the fully-realized versatility to help most any team at the very least. The latter is a solid defender with room to grow and has a hint of playmaking and spot-up shooting knack; the middle can be a tremendous three-point marksman and gives a jolt of offensive punch to bench units; and the latter has a preternatural understanding of pace and nuance that could eventually make him a dangerous pick-and-roll ballhandler.
But the hubris of each player got in the way of that ability with their former teams. Hopes of the Cavaliers and Thunder is that a change of scenery will humble Shumpert and Waiters – Smith, too, though his inclusion in the trade counts as a salary dump as much as anything else – into developing and concentrating on the skills that make them potentially valuable contributors for a great team.
Make no mistake, though: Neither player is or will ever be a star.
And according to sources close to the Cavaliers, Waiters’ reluctance to accept that reality is ultimately what doomed his time in Cleveland:
Sounds about right.
Waiters’ brash confidence doesn’t shock. That very mentality is why he was so sure this summer that he’d grow into a Dwyane Wade-esque sidekick for LeBron James with the Cavs. But confirmation of the third-year guard’s discontent with his role on David Blatt’s squad and the franchise’s commitment to Irving casts more doubt on the possibility of him growing into a key player for the Thunder.
It’s not like Waiters will ever be one of Oklahoma City’s top offensive options, and his time on the court without both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will always be limited. And for the time being, he’ll even have to fight Jackson for the lion’s share of playmaking duties while the Thunder’s superstars sit, too.
Will Waiters accept a role in Oklahoma City that doesn’t much differ from the one he openly disdained in Cleveland? And should he do so, is he self-aware enough to realize he’s several levels lower on the NBA totem pole than Durant and Westbrook? Irving isn’t the caliber of either player, but is still vastly superior to Waiters.
Those are the questions that need to be answered before even considering any on-court ones – and there are a lot of them.
Waiters has a chance to start over, carving out his destined niche as an ancillary playmaker for a championship-contending team. And talent aside, we’d be much more optimistic about his chances of doing so if he hadn’t just squandered the very same opportunity.
What do you think?
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