Rather than sell that script themselves, the Cavs took things one step further. They trotted out the two ball-dominant point guards, and former lottery picks, together for a joint media session Monday.
Waiters said the pair are not enemies but friends, with a history stemming back long before the Cavaliers brought them together, via Bob Finnan of The News-Herald:
I just think, man, throughout this whole year with us two not liking each other, it’s total BS. We’ve been friends before we even made the NBA, before any of this. I just think y’all saying we don’t like playing with one another. ... Yeah, we still need to learn certain things, but I think at the end of the day, we’re genuinely friends. I love him as a friend, teammate, everything. I just want everybody to know that. I don’t hate this guy.
lrving didn't delve as deeply into the subject, but the All-Star point guard did say he's ready to put the subject to rest.
"We’ve had numerous occasions where we’ve been in the media about me and Dion’s relationship," Irving said, via Finnan. "I think me and him are just tired of it. I just want to move past it and play basketball."
Tales of an Irving-Waiters feud ran rampant this season.
A closed-door meeting between the Cavaliers players in November reportedly included Waiters accusing Irving and forward Tristan Thompson of "playing buddy ball" and "refusing to pass to him," according to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard. Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal said Waiters "sulks, pouts, broods" when he's on the floor, an act Lloyd reported "players have quietly grumbled about" all season.
ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst told Cavs The Blog's Robert Attenweiler that Irving's camp has made it known "for years...that he doesn't want to be in Cleveland" and that Irving "doesn't like Dion Waiters."
That's an awful lot of smoke to assume there isn't some sort of fire at its source.
Truth be told, the existence of fire isn't the main concern here. Off-court chemistry issues or not, this duo has not performed well together on the hardwood.
"The Cavaliers perform worse offensive and defensively, getting outscored by 6.5 points per 100 possessions, when Irving and Waiters play together," NBC Sports' Dan Feldman wrote. "That, more than their off-court relationship, must be addressed."
Irving hasn't been the same player with Waiters at his side this season. The point guard has worse shooting (.422/.346/.832 slash compared to .441/.383/.870), scoring (10.6 down from 12.6) and assist (2.8 against 4.0) numbers when Waiters is on the floor, via NBA.com.
That's a major issue, especially considering what this team has invested in both (Irving was the first pick in 2011, Waiters went No. 4 in 2012).
It's not as if Cleveland has the depth to withstand this duo's on-court problems. The Cavaliers (31-47) are headed toward their fourth consecutive losing season since LeBron James migrated to South Beach in 2010 and sit four games behind the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks with just four games left on their schedule.
Something has to give, but it's hard to tell what that something will be.
With the wounds of James' exit not completely healed, it's hard to imagine the Cavaliers letting a perennial All-Star like Irving go. But Waiters' trade value can't be high (he's averaging 15.7 points on 42.9 percent shooting), or at least not high enough to justify cutting ties with a former top-five pick.
So, this problem will likely persist as the latest stain on Cleveland's professional sports scene.
Unless, of course, you're buying what the Cavaliers are selling: that there really is no problem—that we need to simply ignore the smoke clouds that are cutting off our air supply.
Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.