Bet­ting on growth from within?

Heat are hop­ing Wait­ers can grow like Pac­ers’ Oladipo

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Nba Insider - Ira Win­der­man iwin­der­[email protected] sunsen­tinel.com, Twit­ter ira­heat­beat or face­book.com/ ira.win­der­man

MI­AMI – Per­haps the code is as sim­ple as this: If Dion Wait­ers can be Vic­tor Oladipo, then Pat Ri­ley can yet prove pre­scient.

That well could be the take­away of both this pas­sive off­sea­son for the Mi­ami Heat and Ri­ley’s re­cent com­ments on the state of the team.

In ac­knowl­edg­ing his team’s off­sea­son in­ac­tiv­ity, Ri­ley pointed to a core that ef­fec­tively lacked Wait­ers last sea­son, first lim­ited by an­kle pain and ul­ti­mately side­lined by an­kle surgery.

Ri­ley noted that to truly know what you want, you first have to know what you have.

That proved to be the case last sea­son for the In­di­ana Pac­ers with Oladipo, who ini­tially ar­rived as a con­so­la­tion prize in the trade of Paul Ge­orge to the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der. A year ear­lier, Wait­ers ar­rived to the Heat as a re­sult of the Thun­der pri­or­i­tiz­ing a Rus­sell West­brook ex­ten­sion over re­tain­ing Wait­ers.

Oladipo turned the cor­ner last sea­son in In­di­ana, earn­ing an All-Star berth while car­ry­ing the Pac­ers to the No. 5 seed in the East.

As for fur­ther par­al­lels be­yond both be­ing cast aside by the Thun­der, Oladipo was the No. 2 pick in 2013 by the Or­lando Magic, Wait­ers the No. 4 pick in 2012 by the Cleve­land Cava­liers. Each is on his third team. While Wait­ers ar­rived to the NBA a sea­son ear­lier, he ef­fec­tively lost one sea­son to his an­kle is­sue. Oladipo has ap­peared in 366 ca­reer reg­u­lar-sea­son games, Wait­ers in 365.

“You can never pre­dict any­thing in this league,” The Heat landed Dion Wait­ers af­ter the Thun­der traded Vic­tor Oladipo to the Pac­ers for Paul Ge­orge in June 2017.

Ri­ley said. “You look at what hap­pened last year to In­di­ana and how good they be­came get­ting [Do­man­tas] Sabo­nis and Oladipo, how they changed, how their men­tal­ity changed. They made some good ad­di­tions. Very few peo­ple talk about them.”

It is that type of un­der­the-radar ap­proach that has de­fined the Heat’s off­sea­son. No, there hasn’t been any­thing this off­sea­son like In­di­ana adding Tyreke Evans, Doug McDer­mott and Kyle O’Quinn, but those are the types of pieces the Heat are con­vinced they al­ready pos­sess, say with Tyler John­son (or Dwyane Wade?), Wayne Elling­ton and Bam Ade­bayo.

Other­wise, if truly back healthy and mo­ti­vated, Has­san White­side can per­haps counter what Myles Turner of­fers the Pac­ers, James John­son the veteran savvy at power for­ward of Thad­deus Young, Kelly Olynyk a dif­fer­ent type of Sabo­nis, and on down the line.

Granted, we’re not talk­ing about match­ing what is of­fered by the Bos­ton Celtics, Philadel­phia 76ers or Toronto Rap­tors, but Ri­ley also ap­pre­ci­ates the dif­fer­ence coach­ing can make, just as the Pac­ers this past week ex­tended the con­tract of Nate McMil­lan.

“One thing we have go­ing for us is we have fa­mil­iar­ity, we have con­ti­nu­ity,” Ri­ley said. “There is a sys­tem that’s been in­tact here.”

He added of the East race, “If it’s a free-for-all, I’m all for that, be­cause I think the door is wide open for al­most any­body to do some­thing very good.”

But where the door is widest open is for Wait­ers. There was a point late last sea­son for the Heat where it turned into Wade or bust. That pro­duced all of one play­off vic­tory. The Pac­ers, by con­trast, had three against LeBron James and the Cava­liers and ar­guably were the team in that se­ries that de­served to ad­vance.

That’s be­cause, at 26, Vic­tor Oladipo had ar­rived.

Now the Heat’s hopes are that, at 26, Wait­ers, six months older than Oladipo, can ar­rive.

“Not hav­ing Dion Wait­ers play hardly at all, you’ve got to give it an­other shot,” Ri­ley said. “You can’t just keep rip­ping things up ev­ery year and chang­ing your ros­ter.”

In a Heat sum­mer that has had White­side and Erik Spoel­stra patch­ing a re­la­tion­ship, has cen­tered on spec­u­la­tion about Wade’s fu­ture, and had of­fered ini­tial un­cer­tainty about an Elling­ton re­turn, it could come down to whether Dion Wait­ers can morph into Vic­tor Oladipo 2.0.

“This year,” Ri­ley said, “is a piv­otal year for these guys to try to dis­pel the no­tion and the per­cep­tion out there that we are who a lot of peo­ple think we are.”

That list, for the Heat, starts with No. 11.

JOHN MC­CALL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

THEY CALL HIM RIO:

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