It’s becoming clear that when Heat president Pat Riley spoke in April about tightening the screws on the Heat’s standards, he really meant it.
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.”
“There were a number of unacceptable incidents this week, culminating with his unprofessional conduct on the bench last night,” Riley said in the statement issued by the team. “As a consequence, I feel we had to suspend him.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra offered no further comment on Waiters’ suspension following Sunday’s practice, with the team pointing to the statement issued Saturday as the final word.
According to a source, there was a disagreement between Waiters and Spoelstra on the bench during Friday’s preseason finale against the Rockets. Waiters finished with two points, two rebounds and one assist in 10 minutes as a reserve against Houston, with nine players logging more minutes than him in the game.
Waiters played off the bench in each of the four preseason games he appeared in, but he has made it clear that he wants to be a starter. Spoelstra has remained non-committal about that, and he started guards Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, and forward Duncan Robinson ahead of Waiters this preseason.
It’s unclear whether Waiters’ “unprofessional conduct” is related to his current bench role, but it is clear there is a disconnect between Waiters and Spoelstra on this issue.
Hours after news of Waiters’ suspension surfaced, he posted on his Instagram story: “Eventually the truth will come to the light.” Waiters’ account also responded elsewhere to an Instagram post with, “I would win to if I had Bron & wade plus bosh,” in reference to Spoelstra’s success coaching LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh during the Heat’s Big 3 era.
To a comment that read, “Herro as a rookie is far and away better than dion,” Waiters responded by commenting “lol.”
“If everybody can’t get on the same page, then we got to kind of fix that situation,” Heat team captain Udonis Haslem said Sunday. “The way we’ve been able to win championships in the past, is everybody had the same mindset for the same goal and we all were able to figure it out. Those are the expectations that we have and that’s what we want to stick with.”
Is Haslem disappointed in Waiters?
“No,” Haslem said. “I understand that through an NBA season, you’re going to have some ups and downs and you’re going to deal with stuff. Dion is our brother. We hope we get him back as soon as possible. I love Dion.”
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, but Spoelstra said during training camp that Waiters wasn’t yet in “Miami Heat shape.”
“I know I got a ways to go,” Waiters acknowledged during the preseason. “We’re taking it one day at a time. As long as I continue to stay on top of my stuff and make sure I’m doing all the right things. At the end of the day, it only can help me. I know what’s best for me, coach does, too.”
Waiters is entering the third season of a four-year, $52 million contract he signed with the Heat in the summer of 2017. He has a $1.1 million bonus in his contract for appearing in at least 70 of Miami’s 82 games this season.
If Waiters does return to the team on Thursday, his next opportunity to play in a game will come in Saturday’s road matchup against the Bucks.
When asked Sunday how the Heat can avoid distractions, Heat wing Jimmy Butler said: “Our lives are really lavish, to tell you the truth. We come in here for three hours of practice. Then we have the rest of our day to do what we want. I mean, while you’re here, ain’t no distractions. You come in here and you be the best pro you can be. Keep it professional and compete. Hell, that’s all that coach Spo and coach Riley, that’s all they want us to do. I think that should be easy for three hours.”
According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, a former NBA executive: “The one game Dion Waiters suspension will cost the guard $83,448.”
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.
Johnson said Sunday he’s in shape and getting closer to playing in a game. Through it all, he has tried to keep a positive mindset.
“All I can do is grind, come in with a positive attitude and keep working,” Johnson said. “I’m not trying to be an energy vampire. They’ve got something good going on right now that they’ve been carrying since training camp. I’m not trying to come in and interrupt that. I’m just trying to come in and fit in.”
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.”
Haslem called it getting back to what the Heat stands for.
“It’s just getting to what we have built our name and our foundation on since I’ve been here,” Haslem said. “Just getting back to that. Sometimes you just get back to the basics and to the core of who you are and what you are. With these new guys and so many young faces, I think it’s very important that they understand that from the jump of what we’re all about.”