Greg Cote

Miami Heat ‘tighten the screws,’ and Dion Waiters is the lesson as new season begins | Opinion

There is a lot to like about the Miami Heat as they embark on a 32nd NBA season Wednesday night in the downtown bayside arena.

It feels fresh, like starting over, mainly because franchise icon Dwyane Wade is happily retired out in Los Angeles, but also because of Miami’s two big additions.

New face-of-the-team Jimmy Butler and No. 1 draft pick Tyler Herro bring a veteran and rookie presence being counted on to lift the Heat back into the playoffs and help make a run at perhaps a top four conference seed.

But I will start elsewhere in the “lots to like” category.

With Dion Waiters.

I will start with the team suspending Waiters and not putting up with any of his selfish foolishness in loudly pouting because he won’t be a starting player.

I love the hard line on Waiters — of all players — being a malcontent.

Also love what a good sign it is that a healthy Waiters isn’t good enough to start on this team because others, such as Herro and Kendrick Nunn, have earned the minutes instead. Not taken. Earned.

Waiters has gotten everything from this team and given little, and this is how he acts? Like a problem?

He was a draft bust going nowhere when Miami gave his career new life in 2016. He was overpaid a four-year, $52 million deal that runs through next season. The team showed nothing but patience when he took parts of two seasons to get over ankle and foot injuries.

And now he repays all of that by whining about coming off the bench?

Club president Pat Riley suspended Waiters for “a number of unacceptable incidents [last] week, culminating with his unprofessional conduct on the bench [Friday] night” in jawing at coach Erik Spoelstra during the team’s preseason finale.

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So let me get this straight:

D-Wade comes off the Heat bench with nothing but grace and a team-first attitude the final year of his Hall of Fame career.

Now Goran Dragic, who has been a full-time starter in this league and made an all-star team, will come off the bench with professionalism as well.

But that’s too good for Dion Waiters?

Of course, displaying the maturity you would expect from him, Waiters went to Instagram for the last word, taking a clear shot at Spoelstra winning two NBA championships during the Big 3 era.

“lol I would win to [sic] if I had Bron & wade plus Bosh,” he wrote.

Miami would trade Waiters but cannot find a taker. The options are to release him and eat the guaranteed money left on his deal, or hope the discipline serves as a lesson learned.

The lesson: You ain’t Kobe. And you aren’t bigger than the team.

It was just a couple of weeks earlier when the Heat sent James Johnson home from training camp for showing up out of shape.

The Heat talks a lot about it “culture.” Dealing with Johnson and now Waiters is that on display.

In the spring, with the post-Wade era beginning, and out of the playoffs three of five seasons post-LeBron, Riley spoke about a renewed commitment to what Heat Culture means.

“Every now and then, you got to tighten the screw if there is some slippage,” he said. “And there may have been some slippage in some areas across the board. Not just player conditioning, but across the board in a lot of things. So there will be changes. Not a new culture, but tightening the screws on a culture that sometimes erodes just a little bit.”

Johnson disciplined for conditioning and now Waiters suspended for insubordination equals the tightening of those screws.

“You have to have the total commitment,” said Riley. “The absolute total commitment from players.”

Udonis Haslem, entering his 17th Heat season, doesn’t play much anymore but personifies that commitment, and Heat Culture.

“If everybody can’t get on the same page, then we got to kind of fix that situation,” Haslem said of the Johnson/Waiters matters. “Those are the expectations that we have. It’s just getting to what we have built our name and our foundation on since I’ve been here. It’s getting back to that. Sometimes you just get back to the basics and the core of who you are and what you are.”

As the new season begins Wednesday, new star Butler and potential future star Herro will have a lot to say about how good the Heat might be.

But it is the player missing, Dion Waiters, that tells you what this franchise stands for, and demands.

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Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2018 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.
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