Miami Heat: Why 2018-19 is a pivotal season for Dion Waiters

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 3: Dion Waiters
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 3: Dion Waiters /

After signing a long-term deal with the Miami Heat, Dion Waiters missed the majority of last season, choosing to undergo ankle surgery. This upcoming season will be pivotal in determining his future in Miami.

The Miami Heat took a chance on Dion Waiters back in 2016. They signed him to one-year deal in the offseason, using their salary cap exception.

Their gamble certainly paid off in the 2016-2017 season.

Waiters helped make up for the production that was lost after Dwyane Wade‘s departure. He averaged 15.8 points per game and had a career high effective field goal percentage of 48.8 percent.

The Heat went 30-11 in their final 41 games, and Waiters hit some big shots along the way. His play that season earned him a four-year deal worth $52 million.

The contract will pay Waiters his highest annual salary in his career.

Things did not get off to a great start, though.

Waiters began having ankle issues early last season. As a result, he elected to have corrective surgery that would sideline him for the remainder of the year.

The Miami Heat were not thrilled about Waiter’s decision because it was not a case where surgery was required. Obviously, they would much rather have one of their more experienced and higher-paid players on the court during big games and the playoffs.

Regardless, they were supportive.

Heat fans, on the other hand, were a bit skeptical.

Some felt that Waiters was essentially “mailing it in,” since he had the security of a new four-year deal. That point of view is not surprising coming from sports fans. They will always want what benefits their team as a whole.

I can understand both sides of the story.

Waiters was making a long-term investment in his health. The Miami Heat wanted to have one of their best players on the court, especially after offering him a big contract.

Regardless of who was in the wrong, this situation has had one clear effect: this upcoming season is now a “make-or-break” season for Dion Waiters.

The Heat are currently over the salary cap for the year, which means they will likely be looking to move some players before the trade deadline. With Wade’s recent announcement that he will be returning to the team for one final season, the Heat now have nine guards on their roster.

It is likely that one or more of those guards currently on the roster, will be traded before this season’s deadline. Since Waiters is being paid the fifth-highest salary on the team this year, I am sure the Heat would entertain all offers for him.

If Waiters can return to the level of play he showed in the 2016-2017 season, however, I do not think the Heat would make him available to other teams.

His ability to create his own shot and confidence in clutch moments is a skill set that this Heat roster needs. Yes, Wade has those same qualities, but he will be playing reduced minutes in his 16th year in the NBA.

Returning to that level of play is a big “if” for Waiters.

His statistics that season were some of the best numbers in his career. He will have to prove to the Heat that it was not a flash in the pan, and that he can maintain that level of production over the next few seasons.

Waiters will also be trying to prove to himself and to all the other teams in the NBA that he is still an impact player. He has to show that his injury and subsequent surgery has not affected his game.

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At 26-years-old, this will not be his last contract. Given the current salary cap trends in the NBA, Waiters could end up making even more money after his current deal ends.