Severing ties with Dion Waiters can only help a Cleveland Cavaliers team desperate for answers and direction so much.
This season hasn't gone as planned for an organization hoping to clinch its first playoff berth since 2010. The Andrew Bynum and Luol Deng experiments haven't yielded the anticipated results, and the Cavs, now straitjacketed to a bed of theatrics, find themselves motioning toward another lottery berth.
Poor on-court displays have been accompanied by off-court toxicity. The current state of affairs have gotten so bad, the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence claims Deng believes the organization is a "mess."
Deng eventually denied Lawrence's report, per the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd, but Lloyd himself has also found the locker room to be a breeding ground for dysfunction and dissonance. And per Lloyd, Cleveland's attempt to strengthen its crumbling infrastructure will include shopping Waiters.
Trading Waiters would be a step in the right direction, but it won't fix everything or even anything. Too many flaws exist to hope that the subtraction of one player will squeeze any success out of a roster that is already too far gone.
A Good Start
Moving Waiters should not be out of the question.
According to Lloyd, he's been the source of more than one issue for Cleveland:
One league source, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Waiters was removed from practice recently, per the Daily News report. But Waiters’ minutes weren’t affected by the move, which left at least a handful of players raising their eyebrows—particularly within an organization that has preached accountability since Brown’s arrival.
'That’s Dion. He’s been like that since he got here. He doesn't think anything is his fault,' one team source said. 'He’s actually better about it this year than he was last year.'
This latest ordeal comes after a series of others, one of which included butting heads with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson.
During a players-only meeting in December, ESPN's Chris Broussard says Waiters lashed out at the other two, forcing teammates to intervene before the confrontation escalated:
Irving called the meeting after the game, and every player spoke. When Waiters was given the floor, he criticized Thompson and Irving, accusing them of playing 'buddy ball' and often refusing to pass to him. Thompson took umbrage with Waiters' words and went back at him verbally. The two confronted each other, but teammates intervened before it could escalate into a fight.
However, Waiters and Irving are not close. Waiters believes the Cavaliers have a double standard when it comes to Irving, sources said. Waiters feels that while Irving is allowed to get away with loafing defensively, making turnovers and taking bad shots, he is taken out of games for such things. Waiters has shared his views with Brown and Grant.
That information was leaked in conjunction with Waiters' apparent desire to leave Cleveland.
Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling reported that Waiters had requested a trade from the Cavs and that his preference was to land with the Philadelphia 76ers. Lloyd indicated that Waiters denied such findings, but the rumor mill hasn't stopped churning.
Even if it had, this is an awful lot of trouble Cleveland has gone through in attempt to appease a seemingly disgruntled sophomore.
Things would be different if Waiters was thriving, but he's not. He's pouring in 14.2 points on an unimpressive 41.6 percent shooting per game, production that's hardly worth the headaches his alleged displeasure has caused.
Failing to coexist with Irving is huge, too.
Until the Cavs say otherwise, Irving remains their future. Unless they decide to move him out of fear for losing him later on, he's the franchise centerpiece. Players must complement him more so than he must adjust to them.
And if Waiters cannot hack it next to Irving, then his continued presence only hinders whatever it is the Cavs hope to still accomplish this season.
One of Many Problems
Parting ways with Waiters changes one thing, not everything. Plenty of other problems exist within this deteriorating locker room. Waiters is just the beginning.
Lloyd says that Irving has become an issue himself, approaching his responsibilities with alarming indifference and negligence.
"He’s acting like he doesn't care," one Cavs player told him of Irving, per Lloyd.
That makes sense if you buy into the notion Irving wants out. ESPN's Chad Ford previously said the point guard has already told confidants he wants to leave. Trading Waiters doesn't change that.
Maybe Irving becomes slightly happier knowing an apparent sore spot is gone, but he's still slated for restricted free agency in 2015, and there is no guarantee he wants to stay. All the Cavs can do is offer him an extension this summer and hope he signs it. If he doesn't want to, he won't. Then, Waiters or no Waiters, they're left with the decision of whether or not to trade him.
Beyond Irving, the Cavs also have a problem in Mike Brown. Lloyd brings word that many of the players are turned off by his coaching methods, which include "too" many assistants and an offense that Irving doesn't like.
Would dealing Waiters suddenly make Brown a better fit for this team? Nope.
Worse still, the Cavs have a serious Deng problem on their hands. The defensive sage will never express his indignation publicly, but as he approaches unrestricted free agency this summer, the need to win becomes greater.
Another lottery finish all but guarantees Deng's departure. Cleveland can throw years and dollar signs in his direction, but he's smart enough to abandon a sinking ship. And if he leaves, Irving won't be thrilled watching the team's only possible No. 2 walk out the door, thereby rattling an already-delicate situation.
There's also the longstanding issue of general manager Chris Grant, who has turned his last top four draft picks into Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, Irving and Waiters, only one of whom (Irving) is even close to meeting expectations.
Those are problems that will continue to face Cleveland. All of them. They'll be there, threatening to pilfer the Cavs of all optimism, with or without Waiters.
Bigger Than Waiters
Cleveland's catastrophe is bigger than Waiters. Much bigger. Towering over any benefits trading him would bring.
What are the Cavs going to get for him that makes them believe a trade would help? Waiters is still on his rookie contract, which pays him just under $3.9 million this season, per ShamSports. Players capable of turning Cleveland's season around aren't earning under $4 million. They may not even exist.
What move stands the best chance of fixing the Cavaliers this season?
The Cavs have one of the game's best scorers (Irving), yet they still rank 24th in offensive efficiency. They now have one of the NBA's best defenders (Deng), but they still check in at 20th in efficiency.
They house two past and present All-Stars (Deng and Irving) and, including Irving, have four top four draft picks on the roster, but they're still 16 games under .500, chasing a playoff berth in the docile Eastern Conference.
"I just think we’re not playing as a unit," Deng said, via Lloyd. "We’re a young team and right now we don’t know how to make each other better."
One move won't fix that. Addition by subtraction won't fix that. Time won't even fix that.
What the Cavs need is a complete upheaval, a chance to escape the self-inflicted bedlam and disorder that is now poisoning their well, making it so no one countermeasure can remedy a lost season's worth of blights.