Pat Riley said a big part of the reason the Miami Heat stood pat at the trade deadline Thursday was because some of the team’s new additions this season had opened his eyes with their commitment to becoming better players and he wanted to see what some of them could do as the pressure ramps up during a playoff push.
Riley never came out and directly said that’s what going to decide whether or not the Heat makes a push to keep Dion Waiters after the 25-year-old shooting guard will almost certainly opt out of a $3 million deal next season in search of bigger riches this summer.
But for Waiters, a player taken fourth overall in the 2012 draft that has always shown fantastic flashes and never enough sustained consistency, what he does with the Heat the rest of the season will be pivotal for himself. It will also be for the Heat, which could find it hard next season in free agency to find a better option.
“He ain’t got to question me. He’s never got to question me,” Waiters said with a smirk Friday afternoon at shootaround when he was told what Riley had said about him and how his play down the stretch this season could affect his long term prospects with the Heat.
“At the end of the day, I'm going to go out there, play my game, play hard and make sure that I leave it all out there for my teammates,” Waiters continued. “If I play hard every night, knowing I played hard, I can sleep good at night.”
Did he like hearing Riley, 71, toss out a bit of a challenge to him and others?
“It’s a challenge everyday just being in the NBA,” said Waiters, who is averaging a career-high 15.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and shooting a career-best 38.4 percent from three-point range this season.
“Pat puts those type of expectations on us because he believes in us. I don’t call it pressure. I think it’s called a guy just showing great belief in us and this team that we have. Why not go for it all?”
The Heat, which is expected to recoup $25 million towards next year’s salary cap once it releases and applies for cap relief for Chris Bosh, could have more than $38 million in available cap space next season.
Waiters, who has averaged 19.6 points and shot 46.3 percent from the field since returning to the starting lineup on Jan. 10, could easily command $12 to $14 million per season – or more – in the open market if he keeps playing the way he has over the past month.
The potential free agent pool for shooting guards (an aging Dwyane Wade if he opts out; the Clippers’ JJ Redick and Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans top the list) isn’t exactly brimming with stars.
Losing Waiters, who has also shown great chemistry with point guard Goran Dragic, allowing him to thrive while maintaining the kind of efficiency Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra love, would set the Heat back if Miami cannot find a better option.
“He got off to a good start and then he got hurt and missed 20 games games,” Riley said Thursday of Waiters when asked if what the shooting guard has accomplished is enough of a sample size to know if he’s transformed himself from being a decent player to a good player.
“He didn’t shoot well at the beginning but played well. Then he got hurt. When he came back from that [groin] injury, Erik has constantly been coaching him on efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. Be a two way player. We know he’s a big game player. He has a lot of guts, gravitas.
“He wants to take the shot at the end of the game. He’s a very gifted player. If he can put together another 25 games similar to what he’s done over the last 10 or 12, that’s a pretty good sample size of what a guy can do. Does it impact winning? That’s an analytic you have to figure out - his impact on winning. He’s been talked to a lot about that and I think he’s taken it to heart. He’s a big time playmaker.”
After hitting the game-winning shot against the Warriors last month, Waiters said he felt like he finally found a home with the Heat.
Could he see himself in Miami long term now that he’s made it past the trade deadline?
“You never know what the world holds or what can happen. I live day by day,” Waiters said. “But like I said, I enjoy [being with the Heat]. Like I said, my teammates are great, the chemistry we’ve built, like I said I'm comfortable. Once you find comfort somewhere it makes everything else easier. Like I said, I'm comfortable, [there’s] Coach Pat. We’re going to see.
“It’s Miami, my son loves it. Why not? We’re going to finish out strong and let everything else take care of itself.”
ELLINGTON HAPPY HE’S STICKING WITH HEAT
Veteran Wayne Ellington, who has played for seven different teams in his eight-year career, said it caught him off guard Thursday when he woke up and saw his name linked to trade rumors of the Heat trying ship him and forward Josh McRoberts off in a package deal.
“Woke up to a lot of phone calls and texts,” said Ellington, who could see his role diminished some with Josh Richardson returning from injury Friday after a 19-game absence. “I understand it’s part of the business, part of what we signed on for.
“I’m happy I’m still here obviously. We’re building something that we’re all confident and we’re all happy about. I think we’re taking some steps in the right direction.”
Spoelstra echoed those sentiments.
“Guys are very excited about the opportunity of being together and having an opportunity to play for the playoffs,” he said. “From a human standpoint, it was great to see everybody get on the plane last night. We’ve been through a lot and everybody in this gym wanted this group to continue to go forward.”
COMING UP NEXT
Saturday: Pacers at Heat
When/where: 8 p.m., AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami
TV/radio: SUN; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 (Spanish)
Series: Pacers lead 60-44
Scouting report: Miami knocked off visiting Indiana 95-89 back on Dec. 14. Indiana, which hosted Memphis Friday night, entered the All-Star break on a six-game losing streak.