MIAMI — Dion Waiters will get his wish.
Since the regular season ended in April, Waiters has made it clear he wants to return to the Heat.
“I want to be there,” Waiters said in May when asked if he wants to be back with the Heat during an appearance on The Hochman and Crowder Show on WQAM. “When that time comes and we sit down, we just got to make it happen. Let’s get it over with as quick as possible.”
That hope will become a reality. Waiters agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal to return to the Heat with a starting salary of $12 million for this upcoming season, ESPN first reported Wednesday.
Basketball Insiders reported the four-year contract includes no team or player options. It marks the first big payday of the 25-year-old’s career, as he’s made $19.7 million over his five seasons in the NBA and made $2.9 million with the Heat last season.
Waiters had been linked to interest from the Lakers and Knicks since free agency began Saturday.
With a four-year deal, the Heat are making a long-term commitment in Waiters. But the $12 million starting salary seems very reasonable considering players like Ian Mahinmi, Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng and Bismack Biyombo will all make more than Waiters next season. Also, George Hill — a comparable player to Waiters — agreed to sign a three-year, $53 million deal with the Kings this summer with a starting salary of $18.1 million.
Waiters became the Heat’s starting shooting guard last season, and he’s expected to slide back into that spot this upcoming season next to starting point guard Goran Dragic. The backcourt of Waiters and Dragic was effective last season, as they were the only pair of NBA teammates ranked in the top six in drives per game — a skill that was the catalyst behind the Heat’s offensive surge over the second half of the season.
News of Waiters’ return comes one day after sought-after free-agent Gordon Hayward announced he will sign with the Celtics, choosing Boston over Miami and incumbent Utah. The Heat delayed their other free-agency plans until hearing Hayward’s final decision.
Now that the Hayward domino has fallen, Miami is expected to move fast to re-sign some of its own free agents. Waiters became the first to reach an agreement with the Heat, with Miami still working to re-sign forward James Johnson.
With Waiters’ $12 million salary for this upcoming season, it leaves the Heat with about $23 million in cap space and the $4.3 million room exception that can’t be combined with cap space. Depending on how much of that money goes to Johnson, Miami should still have enough space remaining to sign at least one mid-level free agent like forward Rudy Gay — a name that has been linked to the Heat.
Some of that remaining space could also go toward retaining Wayne Ellington. The Heat must decide by Friday whether to guarantee Ellington’s $6.3 million salary for the 2017-18 season or waive him and make him available for any team to claim at that price.
The Heat’s other free agents are center Willie Reed, and forwards Luke Babbitt and Udonis Haslem.
By retaining Waiters, Miami is now one step closer to bringing back last season’s core that recorded a 30-11 record over the final 41 games but just missed the playoffs.
Waiters averaged 15.8 points and 4.3 assists in a career-best year as the Heat’s starting shooting guard. And he played a big role during Miami’s strong finish to the regular season, averaging 18.4 points on 46.7 percent shooting to go with 3.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists over the final 41 games.
Among guards who played at least 45 games last season, Waiters ranked fourth in the NBA with an overall opponent field-goal percentage of 40.4 percent.
Despite all of these impressive numbers, the fact that injuries limited Waiters to 46 games last season loomed over him in free agency.
When Waiters officially inks his new deal with the Heat once signings are allowed beginning Thursday at noon, Miami will have 10 players under contract for the 2017-18 season: Hassan Whiteside ($23.8 million), Goran Dragic ($17 million), Dion Waiters ($12 million), Josh McRoberts ($6 million), Tyler Johnson ($5.9 million), Justise Winslow ($2.7 million), Josh Richardson ($1.5 million), Rodney McGruder ($1.3 million), Okaro White ($1.3 million) and Bam Adebayo ($2.5 million).