Evidently, guard Dion Waiters accepted the Heat’s challenge.
Just months after Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra made it clear Waiters must work on his body this offseason and report to training camp in late September at a lower weight and body fat percentage, Waiters posted a before-and-after photo Monday showing his transformation.
Waiters, 27, never reached optimal shape last season after returning from January 2018 surgery on his left ankle. But he has been working this offseason with David Alexander, who is the owner of DBC Fitness in Miami and has trained Dwyane Wade and a number of professional athletes.
Waiters captioned his Instagram post with this revealing message: “Last year when I came off 1 of the most depressing & frustrating times of my life. Coming off injury & not feeling like myself nor looking like myself I was in a dark place mentally & physically, Because the game I love so much was taken away due to season ending surgery.
“Now a days with this social media ran world they laughed at me made jokes etc not knowing what I was battling or going through everyday. So instead of me joining the circus I told myself you from (Philly) you’ve been through worst s--- in your life than this. So I promise myself I would work my a-- off & get back to where I was before the injury. I’m not done yet but I kno somebody in the world prolli needed to hear this. Stay positive block out the outside noise & grind.”
Just days after last season ended for the Heat without a playoff berth, Spoelstra set the tone for Waiters’ offseason.
“This is a really important summer for Dion Waiters,” Spoelstra said. “He’s healthy now. He feels good. He has to work. The next five months, he has to put in a body of work that changes his physique that gets him down to that optimal weight and body fat, which he was not at at the end of the year.
“If he’s there the first day of training camp, he’ll have the role and impact that he’s looking for. If he’s not — Pat and I are on the same page about this — he won’t. And that’s it. Because he can move the needle in this game when he’s physically right and in world-class shape. That’ll be the focus this summer. I have not forgotten about the player that he was two years ago. It’s time to get back to that.”
Riley shared a similar message in his season-ending news conference in April.
“There is no doubt that Dion Waiters is a level away from his maximum potential,” Riley said. “And he really has been playing this year on 1 1/2 ankles. I’m not making that as an excuse. The surgery that he had was extensive. It wasn’t just to fix one part of his ankle. It was absolutely something more than that.
“But from a conditioning standpoint, Spo and I are right on the same page, whatever number he comes back at, I think it’s going to be to his benefit and we’ll be able to see the explosiveness and he’ll be able to finish. He’ll get to the rim a little more. But he was impacted by his ankle. And while he weighed in at numbers that were acceptable, that’s where the tightening of the screws will come into play. And it won’t be a single screwdriver. I’ll be using one of those Black & Deckers. It’s go hard.”
Waiters, who missed the first 35 games of the season because of ankle surgery, averaged 12 points on 41.4 percent shooting from the field and 37.7 percent shooting on threes, 2.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 44 games (28 starts) last season. He also averaged a career-high 6.6 three-point shot attempts per game and fewer drives to the basket, as he worked his way back.
The goal is for Waiters to eventually get back to where he was before the injury, when he averaged 18.4 points on 46.7 percent shooting to go with 4.8 assists during the Heat’s 30-11 finish to 2016-17.
If Waiters returns to form, he will be one of the top candidates to start at shooting guard for the Heat this upcoming season. He has started 101 of the 120 games he’s played in with Miami over the past three seasons.
Waiters is entering the third season of a four-year, $52 million contract he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2017.
The Heat is also hoping a full healthy offseason will help forward James Johnson return to 2016-17 form. Johnson, who missed the first 15 games of the season because of offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia, averaged 7.8 points on 43.3 percent shooting, 3.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 55 games (33 starts) last season.
Johnson is entering the third season of a four-year, $60 million free agent deal he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2017.
“Not to make an excuse for him because he’s a grown a-- man, but he came off a pretty severe hernia,” Riley said of Johnson in June. “He came off something that was more serious than that. Both of those players, Dion and JJ, we need more from them. Period. That’s it. What we need for them more than anything else, because they are both very versatile and talented, is to be in the best shape they can be in in training camp, and with the best health.”