Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim knew before everyone else did. In his two seasons under the legendary coach, Dion Waiters came off the bench.
The sixth man role certainly isn't suited for everyone, but Waiters thrived in it. He was so good, in fact, that he flew to the top of draft boards during his sophomore season despite not receiving much draft hype as a freshman.
The Cleveland Cavaliers ended up selecting Waiters with the fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft, hoping he would pair with Kyrie Irving to form one of the most dynamic backcourts in the entire league.
It's early, but those hopes have yet to materialize. Waiters has shown flashes, but inconsistency has marred the start of his career. The chemistry with Irving appears to be largely nonexistent most of the time, as the two take turns offensively more often than not.
Despite Waiters' shaky fit next to Irving and history as a successful player leading the second unit, the Cleveland Cavaliers went out and signed Jarrett Jack to a four-year deal worth $25 million this offseason. Jack was the most accomplished sixth man on the market, and his role behind Irving was clear. As a result of Jack's signing, Waiters stayed slotted next to Irving in the starting lineup.
Perhaps Cavs general manager Chris Grant wasn't ready to have Waiters be perceived as a sixth man after just one season, but that ignored the fact that Waiters has been notably better in the NBA when he comes off the bench:
Starter: 57 games, 29.6 MPG, 14.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 48 percent true shooting.
Reserve: 22 games, 26.7 MPG, 15.8 points, 3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 52.9 percent true shooting.
In addition to the production, Waiters' skill set fits the classic profile of a sixth man. His best attribute may be his ability to create his own shot, and he's fast enough and big enough to exploit defenders in isolation.
Waiters could certainly become one of the league's best sixth men, as his stats to this point in his career are right in line with Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith and Jason Terry through their first two seasons (per 36 minutes):
Crawford: 11.7 points, 48.5 true shooting percentage, 10.7 PER
Smith: 15.2 points, 49 true shooting percentage, 11.5 PER
Terry: 16.5 points, 52.1 true shooting percentage, 16 PER
Waiters: 18.3 points, 49.4 true shooting percentage, 13.7 PER
If you were to look solely at Waiters' production, his numbers don't scream "trade him." But when you factor in the shaky fit next to Irving, the locker room concerns, the investment in Jack, the expectations that come with such a high draft slot and the pressure on Grant to retain his job, trading Waiters starts to make a lot of sense.
That doesn't mean the Cavs should feel pressure to move Waiters, unless what's going on behind closed doors is more toxic than we've been led to believe.
But what would Cleveland want if they did look to deal Waiters? ESPN.com's Chris Broussard's report indicated three names: Evan Turner in Philadelphia, Iman Shumpert in New York and Luol Deng in Chicago.
Of that group, Luol Deng makes the most sense. Deng's expiring deal jibes with Cleveland's desire to maintain max cap space this offseason and leave the light on for LeBron James.
Turner is due a hefty qualifying offer in restricted free agency ($8.7 million) that would jeopardize that cap space, and it's unclear what New York would want to do with Waiters when J.R. Smith is already on the roster.
A Deng trade makes sense for both clubs. Chicago gets the backcourt help and the scoring ability they need with Derrick Rose sidelined, and Cleveland gets a huge upgrade at small forward and a player who knows how to move off the ball and defend.
Matching salaries with Deng would be fairly easy, as C.J. Miles, Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee are all on non-guaranteed or expiring deals. Cleveland also has three first-round picks in 2015, so using one to sweeten a deal could work.
Cleveland's direction and future are relatively uncertain, save for one fact: this is Kyrie Irving's team. Players that don't mesh with Irving and don't have a defined role should be shopped, regardless of their stature or profile.
And really, a trade wouldn't be the worst thing for Waiters, either. Smith, Crawford and Terry all won the Sixth Man of the Year award after they left their original teams, so perhaps Waiters would follow suit.
Trading Waiters may seem premature, but Cleveland has too many square pegs and not enough round holes. Cleveland has drafted and acquired talent regardless of fit for the last few years now. It's time to try something different.
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