No one had a more painful experience in the 2016 offseason than Dion Waiters. At a time when Chandler Parsons and Harrison Barnes were earning near-max deals and the Blazers were paying top dollar for the services of Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe, Waiters somehow found himself on the losing end of a game of musical chairs. Few teams were interested in the streaky shooting guard, and the best deal he could get one-year $3 million deal with the Miami Heat, with a player option for a second year at $3 million. It was the sort of response that suggested the former No. 4 overall pick wasn't long for the NBA. Instead, Waiters proved the doubters wrong putting up the best season of his career. He averaged 15.8 points per game, while shooting .395 on three-pointers. He also was a key catalyst in the Heat's 13-game winning streak, which nearly catapulted them into a playoff spot after a dreadful start. Waiters will opt out of his second year with Miami, and is in line for a much-improved payday.
He is still far from perfect—shooting just .648 from the foul line is pretty terrible for a shooting guard, and his streakiness can be a source of frustration—but there should be no shortage of interest in Dion this time around. Here are some places he might end up when he hits free agency next week.
Staying in Miami would make quite a bit of sense on both ends. Waiters has already hinted at taking a hometown discount to stay in South Beach, so it's clear that he likes it there. As for the Heat, they were 27-19 in the 46 games Waiters played in last year, compared to 14-22 in the 36 games he missed. The team really didn't do much to address their shooting needs in the draft, and things could end up being pretty bare bones without him in the fold. Waiters and the Heat proved to be a successful match last season, and he would be a logical fit there for years to come.
By trading for D'Angelo Russell, the Nets were able to acquire a genuinely exciting young player despite being hamstrung by a dearth of draft picks and assets. That's nice, but they still have a disorganized mess of a team. What we know from last year is that Brooklyn would really like to add some depth at the two-guard position. They attempted to sign both Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson, before the Blazers and Heat matched their respective offers. The Nets have recently been linked to J.J. Redick, but if that falls through, Waiters would also be a solid option. He's considerably younger than Redick, and could make for a potent backcourt companion with Russell.
The Sixers have been linked to Redick, too, as their shooting guard spot seems like the one lingering question mark on the post-process roster. A backcourt of Waiters and Markelle Fultz would have the potential to be electrifying, especially if Waiters can keep up his strong shooting from downtown. Since Fultz and Ben Simmons are both strong passers, Waiters would likely get plenty of opportunities for spot-up shots; he'd help the team's spacing situation a good deal, as well. The Sixers are a young enough team that with five years of experience, the Philly-born (and Philly-scarred) Waiters would actually qualify as one of their bigger veteran presences.
The Magic were one of the worst-shooting teams in the NBA last year, as they shot just .328 on threes, good for 29th in the league. Seeing as they declined to take a point guard in the draft, they seem unwilling to give up on Elfrid Payton as the starter at that position; he's a solid if idiosyncratic player, but will never be a shooter. With that in mind, they'd do well to flank Payton with a solid shooter in the backcourt. It's not a stretch to see Waiters and Payton as a complimentary pairing; Waiters can make up for Payton's poor shooting, while Payton could mask Waiters' defensive inefficiencies. After two years, Mario Hezonja looks like a bust. Waiters could bring some of the production the Magic thought they'd be getting from him.
Whether or not Waiters would be a good fit on the Pistons depends on two things:
- How quickly do they expect Luke Kennard to be a serious contributor?
- Do they plan to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?
If KCP is coming back, this won't work. But with Pope coming off a disappointing season, it wouldn't be surprising if the Pistons decide to move on and let some other team offer him a big contract. Kennard could take his spot in the starting lineup, but he's young, and may have some difficulties adjusting to the speed of the NBA game. It's important to remember that Stan Van Gundy loves teams that are flush with shooters (that's how the 2009 Magic were built), and Waiters could fit quite well in his system. If Caldwell-Pope leaves, the Pistons might do well to plug Waiters into the starting lineup, while having Kennard come off the bench as a rookie.