Dion Waiters’ return looks to be getting closer.
The Heat guard traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Friday morning to join the organization’s G League Team as part of a plan to get him back into game shape. Waiters has not played in a game since undergoing surgery Jan. 22 to repair instability and a preexisting navicular bone fracture in his left ankle.
With the Sioux Falls Skyforce coming off a week-long winter break following the G League Winter Showcase, the team is expected to have “training camp-like” practices Friday and Saturday. Waiters is expected to participate in both practices before returning to the Heat on Sunday.
Since the 27-year-old Waiters is a player who has spent three or more seasons in the NBA, he can only be assigned to the G League with his consent and the consent of the NBA Players Association.
“It’s a great opportunity for him to get some five-on-five work,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the team’s decision to send Waiters to Sioux Falls. “We haven’t been able to do that here. He’s been putting in great work. But it hasn’t been five-on-five, and that’s the next step for him. If you look at it, he’s been out a full calendar year. ... So this is a great step for him in his recovery.”
When Spoelstra was asked if Waiters’ G League assignment means his return is imminent, he made it clear there’s still no definitive timetable on that. In other words, don’t expect Waiters to play in Sunday’s home game against the Timberwolves after he rejoins the Heat from Sioux Falls.
“There’s no timeline or anything,” Spoelstra said. “He’ll be back with us [Sunday]. But he’ll just continue to work. We don’t have a new timeline. We’re just continuing to progress and work. All of these are good signs.”
Waiters said last week he’s down to 223 pounds after getting up to 239 pounds following surgery. He recently passed the Heat’s conditioning test.
Waiters, who is in the second season of a four-year, $52 million contract, averaged 14.3 points on 39.8 percent shooting and 3.8 assists in 30 games last season.
The Heat also returned two-way contract players Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten to the Skyforce. Unlike Waiters, Robinson and Maten are expected to remain in the G League past this weekend.
Tyler Johnson has built the reputation of being a streaky player.
But the Heat guard has made it a goal to change that and become “a consistent guy that you can book it every night.” Johnson has done a solid job of that lately, as he’s finished with double-digit points in 15 of his previous 21 games entering Friday’s contest against the Cavaliers.
“That’s the thing I’ve been trying to get to for a while, the consistency aspect of it,” Johnson said. “Because in the past, there would be games I would have like 20 or 30 (points), and then all of a sudden I have four.
“And it’s not even just about the points, it was about the production as far as defensively, it was the production as far as making the right reads and plays. So I’ve really prided myself on trying to be a consistent guy that you can book it every night. That’s something me and [Spoelstra] used to talk about.”
Playing primarily in a bench role, the 26-year-old Johnson entered Friday averaging 12.2 points on 46.5 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from three-point range in 10 games this month.
“This is something that he has been very intentional about,” Spoelstra said of Johnson’s consistent stretch of play. “Since he has been with us, he’s proven that he can be an extremely ignitable player off the bench. The next step for him has been doing it night in and night out. And it’s not necessarily scoring every night, but just having an impact on the game. Putting your imprint on both sides of the floor and your minutes, and I think he’s done the best job of that so far in his career.”
▪ Heat forward Udonis Haslem was not available for Friday’s game against the Cavaliers because of an illness.