Can Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters' Improving Relationship Last?

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Can Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters' Improving Relationship Last?
USA Today

Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters' budding bromance is a great sign for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but how long will their newfound fondness for each other last?

Things have not always gone smoothly between Irving and Waiters.

Waiters was selected fourth overall in the 2012 NBA draft to be Irving's sidekick and help him shoulder the scoring load. The Cavaliers did so while passing on Harrison Barnes, who, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, has been described as a "close friend" to Irving.

On the court, the two have struggled to play off of each other, so Waiters was moved to the bench. Off the court, according to ESPN's Chris Broussard, Waiters has reportedly been critical of Irving by calling him and teammate Tristan Thompson out in a players-only meeting earlier this season.

Despite some rocky times, the two have begun to patch up their relationship. A recent six-game win streak even led Irving to call Waiters his "good friend," reported Bob Finnan of The News-Herald.

Irving and Waiters now seem to be getting along better than ever.

The question is: How long will their improving relationship last?

 

Change at the Top and Early On-Court Struggles

February 6 has been the most significant date on the Cavaliers' calendar thus far.

It marks the day the team fired general manager Chris Grant and named David Griffin as acting GM. Since that day, the Cavs have been a completely different team. A previously lifeless group has transformed into a hustling, defense-first and team-focused NBA squad.

After the firing of Grant, the Cavaliers won six straight games and are 7-3 in their last 10.

A major reason for this has been Waiters, who took part of the blame for Grant's dismissal, said Fox Sports' Sam Amico.

Before that day, Irving and Waiters together had been a bad combination on the court. Both thrive with the ball, but neither have been particularly effective playing off of it.

Take a look at the difference in Irving's numbers with and without Waiters in the game, up until February 6. All stats are per 36 minutes of play.

Irving's Stats PTS AST FG% 3P% STL
With Waiters 21.3 5.4 40.4 31.8 1.3
W/o Waiters 22.5 7.1 44.5 38.5 1.4

Irving experienced a slight scoring dip, while seeing major drops in his assists and shooting percentages, when having to share the ball with Waiters.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Likewise, Waiters' production was much higher when he could dominate the ball while Irving got a rest.

Waiters' Stats PTS AST FG% 3P% STL
With Irving 16.1 3.1 41.4 36.7 1.1
W/o Irving 21.5 3.9 42.8 35.8 1.0

While his shooting percentages were comparable, Waiters' overall offensive production suffered alongside Irving.

That is, until February 7.

 

Recent On-Court Success

On that day, Irving and Waiters had quite possibly their best combined game as teammates.

In a rare road win, the Cavs beat the Washington Wizards 115-113 behind 47 total points between both young guards. Irving finished with 12 assists, two of which set up Waiters. They ended up being Waiters' only assisted field goals of the game.

Nearly 20 months after they became teammates, we finally caught a glimpse of what Grant must have been envisioning back on draft day 2012.

Waiters only has played in four games since that day, due to a hyperextended knee, but we've already seen progress from he and Irving together.

Take a look at the season leading up to Grant's firing and the difference after it, per 36 minutes of play.

Irving W/Waiters PTS AST FG% 3P% STL
Before Feb. 6 21.3 5.4 40.4 31.8 1.3
Since Feb. 6 21.3 7.3 50.0 100 (4-of-4) 1.0

Irving has done a much better job of distributing to his teammates, including Waiters, as of late. While the sample size is small, Irving's shooting percentage actually has been much better while playing alongside Waiters. Since February 6, Irving is shooting just 38.2 percent from the field when Waiters is out.

Waiters' play also has gone up in his five games since February 6.

Waiters W/Irving PTS AST FG% 3P% STL
Before Feb. 6 16.1 3.1 41.4 36.7 1.1
Since Feb. 6 20.3 4.7 44.4 45.5 1.0

Two nights after their road win over the Wizards, the Cavs took down the Memphis Grizzlies 91-83 in overtime on their home court. Despite having their own star players in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Grizzlies head coach David Joerger was quick to praise Irving and Waiters, who combined for 46 points. Joerger told the Associated Press, "They had the two best players on the floor in Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving. They really took the game over from start to finish."

What followed that game was a plethora of positive vibes coming from both Irving and Waiters. Neither really talk about the other to the media often, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear from both. Irving had this to say in a February 10 report by Finnan of The News-Herald:

“He’s looking to me for advice. I’m looking to him for advice, different things we see out there. Earlier in the season, we probably wouldn’t have said anything to one another. It’s just continuing to get better and playing off one another. He’s got so much talent. Me just going to the corner and let him go to work. Or me and him playing off one another, coming off the top of the key, playing pick-and-roll, just looking for each another and also trying to make plays for our teammates.” 

This also is believed to be the first time that Irving referred to Waiters as a "good friend."

Waiters, too, was quick to comment to Finnan on his newfound excitement about playing with Irving, saying:

Now when we attack, we’re looking for one another. We’re playing off each other and we’re feeding off one another. We’ve just got to play off one another. If we continue to do that, we’ll be way better.

For now, things are good between the two. Cleveland has won seven of their last 10 games, and should be getting Waiters back on the floor soon.

The answer to whether they can continue their chemistry lies in one simple factor.

 

So, Will It Last?

Winning makes everyone happy.

Jennifer Pottheiser/Getty Images

Such has been the case for Irving and Waiters' relationship. There's a little bit of a "chicken and egg" dilemma going on about what really came first. Did their chemistry lead to winning, or did winning lead to chemistry?

One easily can forget that the Cavs have been terrible during almost the entire time both Irving and Waiters have been in Cleveland. Neither have really experienced all the bonding that a winning streak can bring to a team.

Can Irving and Waiters continue to coexist?

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As long as the Cavaliers keep playing good basketball with Irving and Waiters leading the way, things should be good between the two. If the Cavs start to resemble the pre-February 6 squad again, both may not be quite as nice in their comments about each other.

For what it's worth, though, the pair do seem to honestly enjoy playing off each other now. This doesn't resemble an awkward "parents are forcing us to get along" moment that nobody really believes is going to last.

The bottom line: This has to work or changes will be made. It's worth nothing that the man who drafted both players is no longer in charge. We don't know where Griffin stood on drafting Waiters, so there's no reason to believe he holds any sort of weird allegiance to him.

Griffin has to find a second star to play next to Irving to keep him happy and in town. Waiters still could be that guy, although we'll need to see a lot more between now and the end of this season.

Winning is what will keep both players together and happy.

How long that will last, based on the way this year has progressed, is a mystery.

 

All stats via NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted.

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