No, there are no illusions, at least not now, of being another Dwyane Wade. Even confidence-oozing Dion Waiters knows playing a 25-game stretch at D-Wade’s level certainly does not warrant comparisons with a future Hall of Famer.
But ask him about the idea of becoming Wade’s longterm successor here, not merely a one-year stopgap, and that elicits one of Waiters’ infectious smiles.
“If you don’t think like that, you’re crazy,” he said. “I am enjoying this thing. Whatever it takes [this summer], I just want to be here. What we’re building here, we have a chance to do something special.”
And get this: He hopes Wade can help him inch closer to being an All-Star player.
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In a weak market for free agent shooting guards, Waiters – a bargain at $2.9 million this season - could cost a bundle: perhaps $14 million or more this summer, and the Heat doesn’t need to decide yet if it’s going to pay it until Miami sees the closing chapter of the most impressive run of Waiters’ five-year career.
But Waiters, 25, already knows how he wants this summer to play out.
“I want to get it done as quick as possible,” he said, hoping Heat longterm interest is mutual. “Let's keep this thing rolling by any means. I don't want to go into free agency with a couple days and make a decision. I don't want that. I know where I want to be. Let's just get it done. My mom loves it here. Would be mad at me [if I left]. My son loves it. My family loves it.”
Waiters has averaged just over 19 points and shot 47 percent since the Heat began this stretch of 21 wins in 25 games, held opponents he’s guarding well below their overall shooting percentage and created a bunch of open shots for others with his penetrations. But he knows there’s another level he would like to reach, and he will reach out to Wade to help get him there.
“We've got the same initials, our games are similar,” Waiters said. “Difference is, he's got them three rings. He's a Finals MVP. Top three best shooting guards all time. I'm chasing that. He's one of my favorite players, one of the players I idolized my game after. When he's playing against me, I'm checking things he's doing.
“Hopefully, one of these summers, we can get together and he can teach me some of the tricks of the trade of getting fouled more. I am definitely going to reach out to him to see if I can propel my game to a new level. That’s what the best players do. You see Kobe [Bryant] with Michael [Jordan]. A lot of guys go to Hakeem Olajuwon to learn. D-Wade’s my guy, one of the best players to ever play the game. It's always been little brother, big brother from afar. I want to pick his brain.”
Above all, Waiters said he’s determined to prove he’s a winner.
“Every day I'm in the locker room, I always look at the [Heat championship] pictures, always look at the champagne showers. I have visions about that every day. I ain't going to stop working until I get to that point.”
Erik Spoelstra speaks fondly of Waiters’ “irrational confidence” and Waiters says that’s from “the Philly in me, that toughness, that mentality, everything I've been through in my life. When I’m out here, I’m free.”
That adversity was real: Born in Philadelphia, Waiters was raised by his mother, who gave birth to Dion when she was 17; his father was in jail at the time of his birth. Four hours after Waiters was born, his grandmother died.
And what about those theatrics and gyrations after hitting big shots?
Goran Dragic’s favorite came after Waiters banked in a 32-footer to seal last Monday’s Cleveland game. “He said, ‘I'm here! I'm here!’ They didn't let me play! when he played for the Cavaliers.
But Dragic adds: “I cherish those moments because those moments are pure and they just come out.”
Said Waiters: “I'm so caught up in the moment. I do a lot of funny things. I might have a funny walk or gesture or a pose. I don't ever think about it. It's just my first reaction. It's crazy.”
Tyler Johnson succinctly explains why Waiters has fit in so well here.
“With him, a lot of times it's easy to get a bad rap because he's so confident that sometimes it rubs people the wrong way because we live in a sensitive society,” Johnson said. “He's more of an alpha male. If you don't match his intensity, he can walk over you. What's good on our team is we have a lot of alpha males. He's in a place where he feels like people care about him as a person.
“D-Waiters has a crazy confidence about him whether he's playing good or playing bad. We allow him to be himself because we know it brings out the best in our team. We don't try to tell him, 'Why are you acting like this?' We like for him to be himself. When he's being the best version of himself, he brings out the best in a lot of people.”