MIAMI – Erik Spoelstra and Dion Waiters needed time. The Heat’s intense coach and the uber-confident guard spent a lot of time getting know each other, trying to understand each other.
And it wasn’t easy. Waiters said the two were “bumping heads” early on. But it was not anything he hadn’t experienced before having played two seasons for Jim Boeheim at Syracuse.
Waiters, 25, calls it “tough love.”
“It’s good bumping heads. It’s not anything bad. It’s like, `I’m challenging you. You can do more. Don’t settle for that,’” he said.
“I had coach Boeheim. It was tough love at the end of the day. They see so much in me that he’s challenging me. I look at it as a challenge. He’s been doing a tremendous job keeping me motivated.”
Keeping him motivated.
However Waiters characterizes it, it is paying off big time. Waiters is in the best stretch of his five-year career, one of the catalysts behind the Heat’s nine-game winning streak. He is averaging 23.6 points, 5.0 assists and 4.9 rebounds in his last seven games, and shooting better than 50 percent from the floor and on 3-pointers. Included is 20 points and seven rebounds in Miami’s 116-93 victory over Atlanta on Wednesday. Additionally, Watiers’ defense has been among the best of any backcourt player in the league.
And he was rewarded on Monday with his first career Player of the Week award.
That assist should go to Spoelstra.
“We started the process early,” Spoelstra said. “We started in August. I spent a lot of time with Dion on and off the court, just getting to know each other.
“He’s really embraced our culture. We’ve been open minded and embraced him and his personality. It’s been reciprocal.”
And Waiters has been the consummate teammate. On Monday, he received a technical foul for being one of several players to come to the aide of Hassan Whiteside after the center was thrown to the floor by Hawks forward Taurean Prince.
“Everyone on this team you got to protect, you got to look out for one another,” Waiters said. “That foul was not necessary. You could have just wrapped him up. Things happen. (James Johnson) was right there and took action. I respect it because I would have wanted him to do that for me, and I would damn sure do it for anybody in this locker room. I think everybody knows that.”
The Heat signed Waiters late in free agency, inking him to a two-year $6 million deal on July 25. The second year, though, includes a very fortuitous player option, which Waiters surely will exercise considering he would make just more than $3 million next season if he opted in but now is looking at something likely at least five times that if he continues to play near his current level.
Now, the Heat must determine in the next five months if they are the ones that will be signing those checks.
“Coming into something new, you’ve always got to figure it out, talk to him, pick his brain, just get to know him first and foremost,” Waiters said about Spoelstra. “As the year went on, I think we’ve built the chemistry and the communication. I think that was key to him constantly just trying to better me, always telling me and always pushing me to be better.”