Betting on growth from within?
Heat are hoping Waiters can grow like Pacers’ Oladipo
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.
THEY CALL HIM RIO: