Miami Heat

Heat suspends Dion Waiters for season opener due to ‘conduct detrimental to the team’

The Heat announced Saturday night that guard Dion Waiters has been suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team.

The suspension will force Waiters to miss Wednesday’s season opener against the Grizzlies at AmericanAirlines Arena.

A statement issued by the Heat on Saturday night read: “The Miami Heat announced today that Dion Waiters has been suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team. He will be able to return to the team on Thursday.”

If Waiters does return to the Heat on Thursday, his next opportunity to play in a game will come in Saturday’s road matchup against the Bucks.

“There were a number of unacceptable incidents this week, culminating with his unprofessional conduct on the bench last night,” Heat president Pat Riley said in the statement issued by the team. “As a consequence, I feel we had to suspend him.”

Waiters played as a reserve in each of the four preseason games he appeared in, but he has made it clear that he wants to be a starter. Coach Erik Spoelstra has remained non-committal about that.

“That kind of scoring punch lends itself to either lineup,” Spoelstra said after the Heat’s preseason win against the Hornets on Oct. 9. “We have quality guys who can start, quality guys who can give you a boost off the bench. The majority of his career, he’s been off the bench. The main thing now is to get Dion progressing, get him in world class shape. He’s committed to that process. He’s not there yet. That’s encouraging what we saw.”

It’s unclear whether Waiters’ “unprofessional conduct” is related to his current bench role. He played only 10 minutes in Friday’s preseason finale against the Rockets, with nine players logging more minutes than him in the game that Riley called him out for his conduct on the bench.

In four preseason games, Waiters averaged eight points on 44.8 percent shooting, one rebound and 2.5 assists in 14.3 minutes. He missed one preseason game — Monday’s win over the Hawks — because he was away from the team to deal with a family issue.

Waiters, 27, is entering his fourth season with the Heat. He has missed 126 of a possible 246 regular-season games over his first three seasons with Miami, with January 2018 surgery on his left ankle accounting for most of those.

Waiters 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 missed the first 35 games because of ankle surgery.

Waiters never reached optimal shape last season after returning from injury, but he dedicated this offseason to reshaping his body. He said he dropped 15 pounds this past summer.

Waiters is entering the third season of a four-year, $52 million contract he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2017.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, a former NBA executive: “The one game Dion Waiters suspension will cost the guard $83,448. There is no tax relief since it was a team issued suspension.”

This already marks the second time the Heat has publicly announced punishment for a player this season. Forward James Johnson was not allowed to attend training camp because he fell short of the Heat’s conditioning requirements, and he missed the entire preseason despite returning to practice on Oct. 11.

Riley spoke in April about “tightening the screws” on the Heat’s “culture.” It looks like that plan is already being put into action.

“It’s across the board, the whole organization, basketball operations and everything,” Riley said earlier this month. “It’s just taking things for granted, letting things slide, being a little bit late, not being on time. I told you what I hated, I hate complaining, gossiping and guys that don’t work hard. I have a hard time with players that don’t tuck their shirts in. It’s very unprofessional. It’s all of these things. Maybe I’m a little bit too picky. But I just believe in uber-professionalism. That’s all.”

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Anthony Chiang covers the Miami Heat for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and was born and raised in Miami.