Much of the Heat’s improvement this offseason could come from trades. But the return of Dion Waiters from ankle surgery might represent the best chance for improvement from within.
It remains to be seen if Waiters will be ready for training camp or the start of the season after January ankle surgery.
But several players spoke Friday of the difference Waiters can make, particularly if he plays like he did during a 25-game stretch last winter and spring, when he averaged 18.4 points and 4.8 assists and shot 49.3 percent from the field and 44.8 percent on three-pointers.
With his ankle bothering him, Waiters’ numbers fell off dramatically during his 30 games this season, to 14.3 points and 3.8 assists per game and just 39.8 percent shooting and 30.6 percent on threes.
“I'm not sure when, but he's going to be more than 100 percent,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t think he's felt right, physically, since when he first got here. He got in great shape, but once he injured his ankle, then he was always dealing with that. This is going to be a really important summer for him. He's going to be here and he'll be working a ton behind the scenes just to get his legs right, then he'll work on the next step of getting in world-class shape and then he’ll get into the next phase of really developing his basketball skills.”
Center Kelly Olynyk said, “We definitely missed Dion, his ability to create plays. You could see it earlier in the year, you throw him the ball and he can get by his man and make plays for somebody else or make a play for himself. He's a guy who can get a shot off anytime he needs to. Those kind of guys are important to have on your team, guys who don't need other guys to get open. Guys who can create something out of nothing. That’s something Dion can do super, super well. Hopefully his ankle will come along. You know how bad he wants to play. He loves the game so much.”
Rodney McGruder put it this way: “Dion at his best gets in the paint whenever he wants. He collapses the defense and really helps shooters out and gets guys easy relief baskets. He's a beast.”
And Josh Richardson said: “People don't talk about it, but he's an underrated defender too.”
HASLEM ON WADE
Udonis Haslem said he “wouldn’t be surprised” whatever Dwyane Wade decides to do — play or retire — and that he doesn’t know how Wade is leaning.
How likely is at that they make the same decision about playing or retiring?
“We haven't really thought about it,” Haslem said. “We've both in situations where we have a lot of different opportunities ahead of us. Do we want to retire together? In a perfect world it would be great to finish it together. But things don't always work out like that.”
Haslem said family issues will be the No. 1 factor in his and Wade’s decision.
“As Wade’s son [Zaire, who plays basketball at Plantation American Heritage] comes into his junior year and college is right around the corner. I understand how it is. My son is at the University of Toledo playing football. I missed a lot of that. … I've got two other young ones coming through the pipeline playing baseball.
“When you are young, basketball is No. 1 above all. Toward the middle of your career, basketball may take a little dip, get second. Doesn't mean it's not important or not your focus. When you get to this age, basketball is like third or fourth. So many things that are just more important in life than the game of basketball.”
Haslem said if he retires, he would have interest in a job in the Heat organization, but not in coaching. “I have a lot of energy and it has to go somewhere,” he said.
▪ Rodney McGruder, who played only 16 minutes in the postseason after returning in February from October leg surgery, made clear when asked that he would like to return to being a starter or a rotation player who plays heavy minutes.
“I want to play,” he said. “I am happy for my teammates. I love cheering them on. I want to be playing in the playoffs.”
▪ Goran Dragic, who retired from Slovenia’s national team after leading the team to the European Championship last summer, said of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo: “If they want me, if they need me, probably I would change my mind.”