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Dion Waiters Is Staying in Miami

After failing to grab a big prize in free agency, Miami is running it back

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

The Deal

Waiters Island is staying near South Beach. And the land there just got a lot more expensive, as the Heat re-signed Dion Waiters to a four-year deal worth $52 million on Wednesday, per ESPN and Basketball Insiders.

The long-term commitment works for both sides, as Waiters gets the payout he’s been craving while the Heat maintain flexibility by signing the guard to a manageable multiyear contract and retaining the ability to trade him in order to fit in a bigger name next summer or beyond if the need arises.

No Hayward, No Problem

Waiters was likely awaiting Gordon Hayward’s decision. Hayward was considering Miami as one of his landing spots, but when he rejoined his college coach, Brad Stevens, in Boston, Waiters decided to pursue a deal with either the Lakers, Knicks, or Heat.

It can be difficult to believe that Waiters is only 25. He’s a young shooting guard who has already played five seasons in the league, and he has been in a couple of high-profile situations (stints in Cleveland and OKC) that never worked out.

But in Miami, the fit felt natural. Waiters shot 38.4 percent in the first 16 games of last season before turning the hardwood below his feet into fire, shooting a scorching 45 percent from 3 during his next 15 games after returning from a groin injury. In the last 14 games of his season, before suffering a year-ending left ankle sprain, Waiters shot 40.5 percent from 3-point range; he led the Heat to a 30–11 record in the second half. This performance isn’t completely disconnected from Waiters’s potential. There’s a reason Waiters was a no. 4 pick, after all. But his rebirth was also engineered by Erik Spoelstra, who never gets enough credit for establishing a winning culture amid his team’s restructuring and the frenzied market the franchise inhabits. Waiters and Spo are a perfect match.

Miami Is Paying for the Present and Planning for the Future

For the Heat, this signing makes sense. Running it back another year with a similar crew will likely win the team a playoff spot in a much weaker Eastern Conference.

Miami also waived Chris Bosh this week, a courtesy move that augmented its cap space up to $34 million, and now allows the team to sign Waiters while remaining flexible for next summer, when more prominent free agents test the waters. The Heat now have $17 million left under the cap this season, which could expand to $24 million if they don’t pick up Wayne Ellington’s team option. This could allow them to find a way to fit in James Johnson while bringing another free agent into the fold.

The Heat have reportedly been interested in Rudy Gay, who is rehabbing an Achilles injury that ended his 2016–17 season prematurely. (His workout videos are a delight, and I’m not sure if I mean that in a good way.) Signing Waiters and a hopefully healthy Gay may be the perfect, and affordable, way to recover after not getting Hayward, who would have given the franchise a bigger name and a boost of offensive production. But Pat Riley thinks in terms of rings, and these moves may not be enough to satisfy his big-picture goals.

Going with plan B is not necessarily a disappointing result for the Heat. For Riley, it’s just the following step in building toward the next big swing (see: summer of 2018). The question, after missing out on Kevin Durant last year and Hayward this week, now becomes: Can he still hit?