Dion Waiters didn’t work for the Cavs, and here’s why

Despite efforts on both sides, Dion Waiters and the Cavs just couldn't seem to fit.

Mark D. Smith/Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Dion Waiters shoots too much, and the Cavaliers were OK with that.

What the Cavs and coach David Blatt wanted was for Waiters to shoot, well, differently.

Now, none of this is meant to indict the Cavs or Waiters, who returns to Cleveland today as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder (3:30 p.m., ABC). Waiters averaged 13.7 points for the Cavs in two-and-half seasons.

The Cavs thought highly of Waiters when he was here. That’s especially true of general manager David Griffin. Everyone in Cleveland wanted Waiters to work — and that includes Waiters.

But Waiters played for three coaches with the Cavs: Byron Scott, Mike Brown and Blatt, respectively. Each began the season with the idea Waiters would start. Each quickly dispatched that thinking in favor of bringing him off the bench.

Never was it more evident the Cavs really, really, really wanted Waiters to become the starting shooting guard than this season. They felt he’d be the perfect complement to LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving — with Waiters providing the role of underrated fourth option behind the Big Three. Waiters welcomed the possibility, conducting private workouts with Love and telling everyone that he and Kyrie were "the NBA’s best backcourt."

But the Cavs wanted Waiters to sort of turn into a spot-up shooter. That was never his game. So he resisted. And he went back to the bench.

After Waiters’ third coach and third return to the bench in three years … well, it was time for a change, and a change for both Waiters and the Cavs.

Some folks around the league thought Blatt mishandled Waiters, that Blatt encouraged Waiters to shoot freely at the beginning, then later tried to reel him in. Others felt Waiters simply didn’t respond well to coaching, regardless of who was on the sidelines.

Either way, anyone who watches J.R. Smith with the Cavs can see what the Cavs wanted Waiters to become. Smith probably shoots too much, too. And like Waiters, the Cavs are OK with it. In fact, what Smith has offered (explosive spot-up shooting) is what Blatt wanted from Waiters all along.

Still, the Cavs wanted Waiters to work. But after three coaches in three years, it’s obvious it just wasn’t going to happen.

Cordial Dion

Waiters was always one of my favorite players to cover. I think a lot of reporters would say the same. He’s open, honest and doesn’t just feed NBA fans the typical run-of-the-mill basketball jargon.

Last season, a national media outlet reported Waiters told friends "he wanted traded" from the Cavs. Less than an hour later, News-Herald beat writer Bob Finnan and I were standing in the dressing room, and Waiters was at his locker. We looked at Waiters. We looked at each other. We shrugged and approached him.

We asked if the story was true. We wondered if he really wanted out.

Waiters seemed really glad someone mentioned it.

"Man, I don’t want to go nowhere," he said. "I was taking a nap and people started texting me and woke me up. I didn’t know anything about that story. I don’t want to be traded. I love it here."

He then went on and on about how he had just bought a pool table and wouldn’t want to move it, how he felt that the team was starting to gel.

But a little more than a year later, Waiters is gone. He is a key part of the Thunder, expected to assist Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the scoring department — and you guessed it, while coming off the bench.

So far, the results are mixed, with Waiters averaging 11.4 points in eight games, but also shooting a career-low 39.8 percent from the field.

Waiters may become a really good player in this league. He’s pretty good now, actually. But the Cavs wanted a spot-up shooter, and Waiters was never that guy. He never will be. It’s not his game.

But if nothing else, the Cavs can thank Waiters for delivering the spot-shooter they needed.