Guard Dion Waiters, who played some of the best basketball of his career during the Heat’s magical run after the All-Star break, is finalizing a new contract with the Heat, ESPN first reported Wednesday.
The deal is for four years and worth $52 million.
Waiters also spoke with the Knicks and Lakers but ultimately decided to stay with Miami.
The Heat, meanwhile, continues to work on a new deal for free agent forward James Johnson, The sides planned to speak again on Wednesday evening, and both parties want to get a deal done.
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Waiters’ deal would leave the Heat with about $23 million in cap space before re-signing Johnson; that would drop to $17 million if the Heat guaranteed Wayne Ellington’s $6.3 million contract by Friday’s deadline. As of early afternoon Wednesday, the Heat had not informed Ellington of a decision.
The Heat also has a $4.3 million cap exception that cannot be combined with cap space.
Waiters, a linchpin in Miami’s 13-game winning streak after the All-Star break, repeatedly has said that he wanted to remain with the Heat.
“I am enjoying this thing,” he told The Miami Herald late in the season. “Whatever it takes [this summer], I just want to be here. What we’re building here, we have a chance to do something special.”
“I want to get it done as quick as possible. 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 was limited to 46 games because of injury but averaged 15.8 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 42.4 percent from the field and a career-high 39.5 percent on three-pointers.
Waiters, the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft (by Cleveland), was arguably the best free agent shooting guard still on the market, with Arron Afflalo, Thabo Sefolosha, Tony Allen and Gerald Henderson among others still available.
In an April essay for the Players Tribune, Waiters wrote: "When I got a call from Miami, I went down there and walked into the O.G. Pat Riley's office. It was damn near the best thing that's happened in my NBA career."
He also appreciated the Heat pushing him to get in better shape.
"When Pat said, 'world-class shape,' I thought it sounded cool," Waiters wrote, "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."
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,” he said late in the season. “I have visions about that every day. I ain't going to stop working until I get to that point.”
Erik Spoelstra has spoken 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.
Tyler Johnson explained this season why Waiters 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.”
Though players aren’t permitted to sign until Thursday at noon, retaining Waiters will give the Heat 11 players under contract: Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Josh McRoberts, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, Bam Adebayo, Rodney McGruder, Okaro White, Waiters and Wayne Ellington (whose $6.3 million deal becomes guaranteed Friday).
• Mark Bartelstein, agent for James Johnson, said there’s no deal in place yet for Johnson with Miami but will talk to Pat Riley on Wednesday night. Both sides want to strike a deal.
• The Heat has expressed interest in re-signing Luke Babbitt, according to a source. Because he has Bird Rights, his cap hit will be just $1.4 million regardless of his salary.
• Here are some other Heat nuggets from earlier this afternoon, including league response to Bam Adebayo and the Rudy Gay situation.