Dion Waiters

Southeast Notes: Waiters, Johnson, Schroder

If the Heat are to retain James Johnson and Dion Waiters, it will likely be on short-term deals, Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel writes in his weekly mailbag.

Both Johnson and Waiters saw their careers take off this season after years of bouncing around and each were instrumental in the Heat’s impressive push for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.

That said, while the pair seem to be a good fit with the Heat, the franchise will look to maintain flexibility by committing only to short-term deals. Eventually, Winderman writes, the club could explore signing them to a longer term deal when their Heat Bird Rights take effect.

Waiters averaged 15.8 points in 46 games for the Heat this season while Johnson added 12.8 points, 5.0 rebounds per game while providing a sense of toughness that fit the traditional Miami mold.

There’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Although it’s easy to second guess decision in the NBA, Hawks owner Tony Ressler is careful not to when it comes to his own club’s contracts, Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. “The NBA is all about second-guessing,” Ressler said. “[…] Listen at the end of the day I’m going to argue that if you look at our payroll this year, I think we did OK. We had a $98 million payroll. We won 43 games. We are in the middle of the playoffs. We are really competitive.
  • Don’t expect Dion Waiters or James Johnson to give the Heat a discount during free agency, the Sun Sentinel’s Ira Winderman writes in a separate mailbag. Money, he says, always talks loudest when it comes to free agency.
  • In the postseason of his fourth campaign, Dennis Schroder is showing off just how dominant he can be. According to Hawks teammate Kent Bazemore, the 23-year-old’s playing style is eerily similar to that of Wizards guard (and current playoff opponent) John Wall‘s, Keely Diven of CSN Mid-Atlantic writes. “[He] is un-guarable regardless of if he’s making shots or not. He is one of the quickest guys in the league. He can get by anyone. He is a great finisher around the rim. He is growing, a young guard. He has a bright future ahead of him. Glad he’s my point guard. I would hate to guard that guy for 35 minutes.

Dion Waiters Discusses Heat, Thunder, Pat Riley

Dion Waiters can become a free agent this offseason by turning down his player option for next season. Even if he chooses that route, he hopes to return to Miami. “Hopefully, we found a home down here,” Waiter writes on The Players’ Tribune.

The Philadelphia native didn’t expect to sign with the Heat last summer. He was a free agent and heard that Miami was interested, but wasn’t sold on the fit. “I wasn’t really seeing it at first. Nothing against the Heat, but I didn’t know how I’d fit there,” Waiters writes. “Then I met Pat Riley.”

Waiters explains how Riley spoke with him about life and not just basketball during a free agent meeting. Riley also told him that if he came to Miami, the organization would get him in “world-class shape.” Waiters said he didn’t know it at the time, but now he realizes that taking the meeting with the Heat president was the best thing that happened to his basketball career. He writes:

When Pat said “world-class shape,” I thought it sounded cool, but in my head, I was like, Yeah, I got this. I’m in world-class shape. You already know. So I show up for camp, and after one week, my body is shot. I was damn near throwing up in trash cans like in the movies. And I realized, You know what? Pat was not just talking that smooth talk. This Heat thing is the real deal.

Miami came up one game short of making the playoffs after starting the season with a record of 11-30. Waiters believes that the Heat could have done serious damage as an eighth seed in the east, but regardless, he feels the season was special.

The Syracuse product also discusses how he enjoyed competing with Kevin Durant in practice and how he loved his Thunder team during the 2015/16 season. Waiters thought he was going to return to Oklahoma City after the team lost in the Western Conference Finals. “I genuinely thought I was going to be back in OKC this season, and we were going to make another run at it. But things didn’t work out that way, because basketball is a business,” he writes.

Waiters’ article is one of the publication’s best pieces and it’s worth a read. In addition to the aforementioned, he discusses his life growing up in Philadelphia, his younger basketball days, and his public persona, which includes the notion that he thinks he’s the best on the court and that he has irrational confidence.

“Listen, now you know where I’m from. Picture yourself walking into a South Philly playground at 12 years old, with [grown] men, bleachers packed with people, trying to get a run in.” Waiters writes. “You think you can survive in Philly without irrational confidence?”

Heat Notes: J. Johnson, Waiters, Cap Space, Whiteside

Using their cap space to keep their own free agents is a better option for the Heat than chasing Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin, argues Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel. Miami will have about $37MM to spend this summer if it declines a $6.3MM option on Wayne Ellington. Issuing a max contract of more than $30MM would severely cut into that total and make it impossible for the team to re-sign James Johnson and Dion Waiters. The Heat may try to trade Josh McRoberts, who is expected to exercise a player option worth a little more than $6MM, but Winderman doesn’t expect them to find any takers. He recommends using that $37MM to keep Johnson, Waiters, Ellington and Willie Reed.

There’s more news out of Miami:

  • The Heat’s decisions this summer will shape their roster for the next few years, Winderman writes in a separate piece. If Johnson and Waiters both sign three- or four-year deals, they will join Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson, who are all under contract through 2019/20. Those three already take up $62.7MM of Miami’s cap room for 2018/19, when the cap is projected at $102MM. Even assuming team-friendly contracts for James Johnson and Waiters at a combined $28MM, the Heat would be at $90.7MM, without considering $5.2MM cap holds for Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson. Miami’s front office will have to decide soon if that core is worth locking up the salary cap for the next three seasons.
  • Despite recent comments from team president Pat Riley expressing loyalty to his players, the Heat would be willing to trade anyone on the roster, Winderman states in another column. The writer adds that Riley handled his press conference much better than Knicks president Phil Jackson did, but notes that if Dwyane Wade was allowed to leave last summer, then anyone is expendable.
  • After giving Whiteside a four-year, $98MM deal a year ago, the Heat want him to become a better low-post scorer, Winderman relays in another story. Whiteside continues to be among the league’s best rebounders and shot blockers, but the organization wants him to expand his offensive game and become a “championship” center. “Once you feed him that, he may be able to go there,” Riley said, “but you have to put him in that position. I think he has the ability to put up bigger numbers.”

Pat Riley Talks Heat, Offseason, Haslem, Bosh

At his season-ending press conference today, Heat president Pat Riley expressed optimism and enthusiasm about his team’s future, despite the fact that he was disappointed Miami wasn’t able to sneak into the playoffs.

“While we’re not in the playoffs, we’re ahead of the game,” Riley said. “The table is set, with the pick. We obviously know we have flexibility in free agency. We will see how that works out with our players and other players.

“I was pissed. They deserved to get in and they didn’t get in…. We won four out of our last five games against the best teams in the conference and we still didn’t get in. It was a great disappointment, but at the same time it was a lot of success.”

In addition to suggesting that he’s not sure how many more non-playoff years he can take, Riley weighed in on several items of note relating the Heat and their summer plans. Let’s dive in and round up the highlights, courtesy of Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald

  • Asked about possibly pursuing a star free agent – as the Heat did a year ago with Kevin Durant – Riley downplayed that possibility, suggesting that “we are going to focus on our guys” rather than the “whales” he has talked about in the past. In addition to Dion Waiters and James Johnson, one of those guys is Udonis Haslem — Riley said today that he wants the longtime Heat big man back on the roster next season, calling Haslem “invaluable.”
  • The Heat may also go the trade route rather than making a massive free agent signing, according to Riley, who added that Justise Winslow is not “going anywhere.”
  • On the subject of Chris Bosh, Riley said there have been discussions within the organization about Bosh’s situation, but there’s no resolution yet.
  • Riley doesn’t mind not being at the very top of the draft, since he feels like he can get a solid player in the middle of the first round, and points out that seven of the top prospects are point guards, which he doesn’t need (Twitter links via Jackson).
  • The Heat president indicated that he was happy the team invested heavily in Hassan Whiteside last summer, adding that he believes the young center is capable of developing into the sort of player who averages 25 PPG, 17 RPG, and 6 APG.
  • Riley called the issue of resting healthy players an “absolute travesty” that needs to be addressed by the league, noting that the Heat don’t take part in that practice.
  • Riley also said that Miami’s goal is to establish a D-League affiliate within 100 miles of the NBA team (Twitter link via Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel). Currently, the Heat’s NBADL team plays in Sioux Falls, which is more than 1,800 miles away from Miami.
  • Be sure to check out Jackson’s recap for several more comments from Riley.

Eastern Rumors: Rondo, Bosh, Waiters, Magic

It was an up-and-down first year in Chicago for Rajon Rondo, who found himself in the starting lineup at times, and on the bench at other times. However, with the Bulls in the playoffs and holding their own so far against the No. 1 Celtics, Rondo said today that he hopes the club picks up its option on his contract for next season, according to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune.

“I like where I’m at. I think we have a really good team,” Rondo said of the Bulls. “We made a big trade halfway through the season. All the things this year with 45 different lineups, we still made it to the playoffs.”

Rondo’s deal calls for a salary worth more than $13MM next season, but currently only $3MM of that figure is guaranteed. As Johnson notes, the veteran point guard said today that he’d like to be back with the Bulls even if Dwyane Wade opts out of his contract this summer.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Appearing on Larry King Now on Sunday, Heat big man Chris Bosh – who missed the entire 2016/17 season due to blood clot issues – reiterated that he hasn’t closed the door on attempting an NBA comeback. Bosh also said that he doesn’t have any real interest in coaching basketball after he officially retires as a player. Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel has the details and the quotes from Bosh.
  • James Johnson referred to Miami as “home” on Monday, and the Heat‘s other key free agent, Dion Waiters, also also expressed a desire to stay put this offseason, as Shandel Richardson of The South Florida Sun Sentinel writes. Still, Waiters acknowledged that he “can’t predict the future,” so it remains to be seen what his free agency holds.
  • Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders examines the Magic‘s search for a new general manager, noting that current Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard and former Pacers exec David Morway have both been mentioned by league sources as possible candidates for the Magic. Orlando head coach Frank Vogel worked with both Pritchard and Morway in Indiana.
  • Asked by Raul Barrigon of HoopsHype about his upcoming free agency, Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko suggested that he’s “not closing any doors,” but he isn’t sure yet what his future holds.

Heat Notes: Spoelstra, Johnson, Winslow

Heat players recently cleaned out their lockers, having failed to make the playoffs, and many of them will have an opportunity to go elsewhere this summer. James Johnson, Udonis Haslem, and Luke Babbitt will be free agents. Willie Reed, Josh McRoberts, and Dion Waiters all hold player options and Wayne Ellington could join the free agent market if the franchise declines his $6.27MM team option.

Coach Erik Spoelstra wants his players to feel comfortable returning to Miami, as Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel writes. “This is clean-up day, not clean-out day,” the coach said.

Spoelstra added that his goal is to move forward with the team’s current group and compete for a championship. “Our organization is not going to change. We’re hard-wired to play and compete for championships,” he said. “Hopefully this is dot-dot-dot continued and we can build on this.”

Here’s more from Miami:

  • The Heat are thrilled with Hassan Whiteside‘s growth this season, as Winderman relays in the same piece. “I think his growth has been staggering,” Spoelstra said of the big man. “You can define it how you want. He can become one of the greats.” Whiteside signed a four-year, $98.4MM contract with Miami last offseason.
  • Johnson may consider taking a discount to stay with the Heat if it means keeping this year’s group together, Winderman passes along (Twitter links). “I’m home. That’s what it feels like. I love it here,” Johnson said of Miami.
  • Justise Winslow is recovering from shoulder surgery and is “way ahead of schedule,” according to Spoelstra, as Winderman relays via Twitter.
  • Prior to the injury, the Heat strongly believed Winslow would become a quality starter due to the work he put in last summer to improve his shooting, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes. Winslow admits that being sidelined hindered his ability to get comfortable with his new shooting mechanics, but added that he’ll continue to work on that part of his game.
  • Spoelstra feels Winslow would have helped Miami this season because of his efficient play, as Jackson passes along in the same piece. “He can generate threes for you offensively because he puts a lot of pressure in the paint, off the dribble, in transition. He’s an aggressive, bruising, physical type of player and he sees the floor. That helps create your three-point game,” the coach said.
  • In his latest mailbag, Winderman explains why it’ll be hard for the Heat to add a major free agent, such as Paul Millsap, and bring back the core of this year’s squad. The team can feasibly carve out approximately $37MM in cap space this summer and that may not be enough for Miami to add a max player in addition to own free agents.

Southeast Notes: Heat, Howard, Fournier

James Johnson and Dion Waiters were among the players that helped kick-start – and sustain – the Heat‘s 30-11 second half run, but both players are eligible for unrestricted free agency this offseason. Johnson and Waiters combined to earn less than $7MM in 2016/17, and with both players in line for sizable raises, Heat owner Micky Arison seems ready to pay up to retain them. As Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald details, Arison published an Instagram photo this weekend that shows him posing with Johnson and Waiters. The caption? “The @miamiheat future looks very bright.”

Of course, an Instagram photo in April doesn’t mean that Johnson and Waiters are guaranteed to re-sign with the Heat in July. Team president Pat Riley will have a major role in that decision, and many teams with cap room could make things difficult for Miami.

Here are a few more notes from around the Southeast:

  • Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel takes a look at the Heat‘s roster from players one through 15, attempting to determine which guys the team will prioritize this summer. In Winderman’s view, Miami should try to re-sign Waiters, but Johnson should be the priority if the team has to decide between the two.
  • Hawks center Dwight Howard, who was previously represented by Perry Rogers, has signed with ASM Sports and will be repped by agent Andy Miller going forward, tweets Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders. Howard remains under contract with Atlanta for two more years after this season, so he won’t be signing a new deal anytime soon.
  • Hornets forward Nicolas Batum has already said he won’t play for France in this year’s Eurobasket tournament, but Magic guard Evan Fournier hasn’t ruled out the possibility. As Emiliano Carchia of Sportando notes, Fournier told L’Equipe this week that, while he’s not retiring internationally, he’ll visit a wrist specialist soon and will make a decision on his summer after that.

Dion Waiters “Making Progress,” Still Without Timetable

According to a report from the Sun Sentinel today, Dion Waiters is making progress in his recovery from an ankle injury. Coach Erik Spoelstra indicated to reporters that Waiters no longer requires a walking boot.

“Nothing new, but he is making progress,” Spoelstra said. “He’s starting to do some conditioning. He’s out of his boot, so that’s good.”

Following Sunday’s match-up with the Nuggets, Waiters will have missed eight consecutive games due to injury. Waiters’ career renaissance has been a driving factor of Miami’s success, as the former Syracuse star averaged 21.5 points over a 10-game stretch in January.

The Heat are currently tied for the eighth seed with Indiana, as the Pacers have dropped seven of their last 10. In a recent report from Tom D’Angelo of the Palm Beach Post, Spoelstra noted “The swelling has come down considerably. He’s still going through the process of more mobility and movement.”

Eastern Notes: Cavs, Van Gundy, Waiters, Hornets

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue and forward LeBron James believe the team has shown a lack of toughness in recent weeks, Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The Cavs have fallen to 22nd place in the defensive efficiency ratings and are in dangerous of losing the top seed in the East. Their latest loss to the Nuggets on Wednesday had both of them lamenting about the team’s lack of desire to defend. “It starts with the coaches but the players gotta look at themselves in the mirror, too,” Lue told Vardon and other members of the media. “They gotta be more physical, they gotta bring a physical presence and they’ve got to take pride in guarding their man.” James adds: “It ain’t about a group, it’s about individuals. … You can’t preach toughness, you’ve got to have it.”

In other news around the Eastern Conference:

  • The Pistons are in danger of sliding out of the playoff race and coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy is groping for solutions, Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes. Detroit has lost five of its last six, including a last-second defeat to the Eastern Conference’s worst team, the Nets. “I think it’s pretty clear from these six games that I’m not finding the answers and not doing a very good job, so it starts with me. I’m the person in charge,” Van Gundy told Langlois and the assembled media. “I selected everybody in that locker room. I’m the one who wanted them in there. I decide who plays. I put lineups out there. I decide on defensive coverages. I call plays. So it’s all on me.”
  • Dion Waiters left ankle sprain has shown progress, so the Heat have not scheduled an MRI, Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post tweets. Waiters wanted an MRI if he hadn’t felt improvement, Chiang adds. Waiters has missed the last two games after suffering the injury on March 17th.
  • The Hornets will not participate in the trend of resting players, according to David Scott of the Charlotte Observer. That would go against the philosophy of owner Michael Jordan and assistant coach Patrick Ewing, who didn’t take games off when they played, Scott adds. “It’s easy for me, because I’m working for an owner who just doesn’t believe in it,” coach Steve Clifford told Scott. “And I have an associate head coach who would kill me if I started doing it.”

Free Agent Rumors: Teague, Rose, Olynyk, Waiters

Much has been made of Paul George‘s approaching free agency, but the Pacers star won’t be eligible to hit the open market until 2018. Another key Indiana player – Jeff Teague – will see his contract expire this summer, and if Teague leaves the Pacers as a free agent, that probably increases the likelihood of a George departure as well, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News.

One league source who spoke to Deveney predicted that Teague will seek a contract close to the max, pointing to Mike Conley‘s five-year, $150MM+ deal with the Grizzlies as one that Teague’s camp will probably bring up in contract negotiations. However, Deveney notes that Teague grew up in Indianapolis and would like to stay with the Pacers, which means a hometown discount isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Here are a few more notes from around the NBA related to current free agents or players whose contracts will be up this summer:

  • In a video for The Vertical, Bobby Marks and Chris Mannix identify Knicks point guard Derrick Rose and Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk as two free agents whose value is very hard to pin down. Mannix suggests he wouldn’t commit to Rose for more than one or two years, while the duo agrees that Olynyk will likely command an annual salary worth at least $10MM, a substantial price to pay for a player whose production has been inconsistent.
  • It has been a tale of two seasons for Dion Waiters, who is enjoying perhaps his best year as a pro in Miami, but has also been slowed by various injuries, including the ankle sprain that currently sidelines him. Still, Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel doesn’t expect those injuries to give the Heat much additional leverage in contract talks this summer with Waiters, since they’re not serious, long-term ailments.
  • Former NBA players Solomon Jones and Jarnell Stokes are currently NBA free agents, but both players have signed D-League contracts, according to Chris Reichert of The Step Back (Twitter links). Stokes’ D-League rights are held by Sioux Falls, so last year’s NBADL will return to the Skyforce. The club waived former NBA center Johan Petro in a corresponding move.
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