The Story: Heat starter Dion Waiters has reportedly decided to undergo season-ending surgery on his sprained left ankle after receiving other opinions. The injury occurred three weeks ago in the first quarter against the Mavericks.
The Importance: This is the same ankle that cut Waiters’s 2016–17 season short. After spraining it in mid-March, he missed Miami’s final 12 games (while the Heat continued a surprising turnaround that ended just short of a playoff bid).
Waiters passed on surgery at the end of the season. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the 26-year-old was entering free agency that summer. Miami invested in Waiters, signing him to a four-year, $52 million deal.
The Takeaway: Miami may have seen this coming, given that Waiters admitted in training camp that the issue remained. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has also been without Rodney McGruder for the entire season after the guard suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia in early October; based on his original three-to-six month time table, McGruder might be out until April. Justise Winslow may return this weekend, and Okaro White most likely won’t return until the All-Star break.
Embracing a blue-collar, underdog persona was Miami’s motivation last season, and it almost took them to the playoffs despite an 11–30 start. Being this shorthanded could conjure up that inspiration yet again. And then there’s the season-long debate among Heat faithful about whether the team is better off without Waiters.
Spo will now lean completely on Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, and Wayne Ellington, the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-highest scorers on the roster, respectively. Since Waiters’s nine-game absence began, Miami has gone 7–2, and the team is currently on a six-game win streak that pushed it up to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Eyes emoji? Eyes emoji.