Storyline: Dion Waiters Injury

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Out of sight and out of action since January ankle surgery, Waiters has been back on the court at AmericanAirlines Arena in pickup games, including one that Wednesday featured Adebayo. “It can’t do anything but make us better,” Adebayo said of seeing the Heat’s once-and-expected-again starting shooting guard back on the court. “I feel like Dion has another unbelievable ceiling to him. He’s looking good to me. You can tell he’s been in the gym because he’s been working.”

Sidelined since mid-January ankle surgery, Waiters said it was difficult not to be part of the Heat’s playoff series against his hometown Philadelphia 76ers, a best-of-seven series the Heat lost in five games. “For me, personally, it was tough,” he said, “because that’s something I always dreamed about, just being home, in Philly, in the playoffs, the atmosphere, you know my family, my friends, everybody who watched me grow up, I wasn’t able to partake in that.”

Waiters, 26, sprained the ankle for the second time in nine months on Dec. 22 and has missed the past nine games. Reports have circulated most of the week that Waiters would opt for the surgery and the announcement comes as no surprise. Waiters reportedly sought several opinions on his ankle. The injury will cost Waiters a $1.1 million bonus for this season, that was tied into the four-year, $52 million deal he signed with the Heat in July. For the bonus to kick in, Waiters would have had to have played at least 70 of Miami’s 82 games. That would have raised his salary this season to $12.1 million. Now, he will make $11 million.

Heat guard Dion Waiters has been giving serious consideration to undergoing ankle surgery, a procedure which would end his season, according to an associate. A decision could come at any time, with continued rest and treatment as the other option being considered. The Heat has not put pressure on Waiters to make a decision, or pressured him to make one decision over the other. Waiters, who has sought multiple medical opinions, has missed eight consecutive games with a sprained left ankle.

Dion Waiters missed the final 13 games of last season with a sprain to the same ankle but decided to bypass offseason surgery because he was a free agent at the time. He has said that ankle surgery would sideline him 8 to 10 months. Waiters, in July, signed a four-year, $52 million contract that is paying him $12.1 million this season, with a jump to $12.7 million next season. The contract awards Waiters a $1.1 million bonus this season if he plays in 70 games — a clause he appears unlikely to meet.

Ankle surgery is back on the table for Heat starting shooting guard Dion Waiters. After spraining his troublesome left ankle on a drive to the basket during Friday’s win over the Mavericks, Waiters said he will consider surgery this offseason. “At this point, you got to see what’s best,” Waiters said before Tuesday’s game against the Magic when asked if he will consider surgery to repair his left ankle at the end of the season. “But I won’t write it off, hell no. Especially if I’m going to keep going through the same thing, even with like little tweaks and things like that. When the season is over, after the playoffs and things like that, I’ll sit down with my family, my agent and we’re going to take care of it.”

Through his first five games he’s shot 33.3 percent and averaged 4.4 points after halftime. Before the break, he’s shot 48.6 percent and averaged 8.8 points. “I’ve always got that – like at the beginning of the game – I’ve always got that explosive first step,” Waiters said. “Even on one leg I’ve got that explosive first step. I’ve just got it. That ain’t really [the issue].” But “then,” he admits softly, “I’ll feel it.” The ankle tightens up. Usually he’ll tell trainor Jay Sabol when the pain becomes unbearable. But for the most part, Waiters tries to put mind over matter.

Spoelstra again downplayed, but did not dismiss, the impact of the ankle issue. “He wouldn’t want me to make that excuse for him, and he won’t make that excuse,” Spoelstra said. “You have to adjust in this league. It’s not the first time that he has dealt with something. And just like the majority of the guys in the league, as the season goes on, you’re not feeling 100 percent and you’ve got to find different ways to get back to winning. You could see in some games it looks like he has the step and in some games he doesn’t. But his treatment is going really well. He’s getting better. He’s getting healthier. The pain and all that is clearing up. So he just has to stick with the process.”

The same left ankle that sidelined him for the final 13 games last season, when the Heat came up just short of a playoff berth. The same ankle that he said still was tender when he reported to training camp last month. This time, Waiters found himself back in the locker room getting re-taped during the third quarter of Wednesday night’s 116-109 season-opening loss to the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center. “I didn’t sprain anything until I got here, three times,” Waiters said of Wednesday’s game, “It’s weird. Just guarding and trying to get through a screen, a guy kicked my foot and tweaked it a little bit. I’m not going to make it a big thing right now.”

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow looked good and showed no ill effects from their season-ending injuries last season in their first full practices back with the team Tuesday morning at Florida Atlantic University. “[Winslow has] been scrimmaging for a while. It was important for him to get those live reps. You would never be able to tell by his aggressiveness that he brought to this practice that he was coming off any kind of injury anywhere on his body. People felt his presence.”

Waiters, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal this summer, revealed at Heat Media Day Monday he still feels discomfort in his left ankle, which he badly sprained and cost him the final 13 games of the regular season. “It’s aching a little bit. But if I take a little Tylenol, I’ll be alright,” Waiters said Tuesday. “It’s going to be a process. But we know what we got to do, so it’s manageable. We just got to make sure we keep our eye on it and just keep getting treatment.”

There is still no timetable for Dion Waiters’ return, but the Heat are encouraged by the progress he’s making in Miami. Waiters did not travel with the team on it’s current three-game road trip, as he’s still recovering from a sprained left ankle he suffered on March 17 against the Timberwolves. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Waiters will miss the Heat’s final two games of the trip — Tuesday against the Pistons and Wednesday against the Knicks — as he continues to rehab the injury in Miami.

The Heat’s starting shooting guard, who was injured late in the first half of last Friday’s win over Minnesota when he landed awkwardly on the foot of T’Wolves forward Gorgui Dieng, said he’s been wearing low top sneakers for years and believes the injury would have happened to him regardless of his footwear. “That’s all I’ve been wearing my whole career,” said Waiters, who wears the low-top Kobe A.D. model by Nike. “It’s hard to adjust. Even if you go back to college, I wore low tops. I like low tops. Even though I play the way I play and attack the rim and things like that, these type of things happen if you have high tops on. It happens.”

Dragic said he just feels more comfortable in low tops. “Each player is different,” he said. “I wear in my career high tops, mid tops, low tops but the most comfortable that I feel is in low tops. I feel that I can move better. I can explode and everything. It’s maybe just in my head.” As for Waiters, Spoelstra said the swelling remains. “That will be normal,” he said. “Even when he came back and played from the last one he had swelling for a couple of weeks.”

Waiters said he hasn’t been able to put any weight on the ankle whatsoever and the swelling is bad enough that he thinks he’s going to request an MRI once he’s finally able to have one. He said he’s been working around the clock with Heat trainers to get the swelling down. “If I don’t like what’s going on or it’s not improving I’m going to get [an MRI],” said Waiters, who has a $3 million player option for next season he’s almost sure not to exercise because he could command much more money in the open market.

The Heat said X-rays on Waiters’ ankle were negative and coach Erik Spoelstra said there’s no timeline yet for when the team’s third-leading scorer and starting shooting guard will return. When Waiters sprained the same ankle last month in a win at Minnesota he missed three games. “I was hanging out with him a little bit in the training room,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a sprained ankle, same left ankle that he sprained in Minnesota. So I don’t know what his problem is with Minnesota, but he sprained it similar to the way he did last time. There’s no timeline on it. There’s no way to really tell until we get to the next day.”

Waiters played through his groin injury for four games before the Heat decided to give him time to recover to avoid it getting even worse. He missed his first game of the season Monday against the Celtics. “I didn’t decide anything. That’s what the staff thought was best for me,” Waiters said after Monday’s game of taking time off. “I’ve been playing with it. I guess they didn’t want it to get any worse. “It’s very disappointing. I hate to miss games. You can see I don’t do good missing games. It pisses me off. But I know it’s best for me.”
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