The former All-Star forward, who was traded from the Chicago Bulls to Cleveland on Jan. 7, has heard all the rumors of discord between his young teammates, and he wants the world to know that it is simply not true, per The Morning Journal's Bob Finnan:
"It’s a distraction. I mean all this stuff that I hear, but when we’re in the locker room with these guys every day, they love each other. I can’t say one word or one incident, and when we get on the court, we never think twice about it."
The 2013-14 season proved tumultuous for Irving and Waiters, despite the fact that both players achieved significant individual highlights. Irving, the third-year point guard from Duke, started the 2014 All-Star Game while Waiters, the second-year shooting guard from Syracuse, averaged a career-high 15.9 points per game.
But Waiters and Irving have been in the tabloids all year, and not for positive reasons.
Waiters accused 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."
Head coach Mike Brown decided early in the season that the two young guards were not meshing well, and he moved Waiters to the second unit after just nine games. He remained the Cavs' sixth man until Irving strained his left biceps tendon during a March 16 game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Brown reinserted Waiters into the starting lineup, and the shooting guard closed the season on fire, averaging 21.2 points and 4.2 assists in his last 15 games.
Irving returned on April 2, and the long-separated pair started together for the last seven games of 2013-14. All told, Waiters and Irving started in the same lineup only 16 times on the season.
According to Finnan, Cleveland made a major mistake by failing to play its young guards together more often during 2013-14:
Waiters said they needed to learn how to play off one another and try to get better.
Of course, that didn’t happen, at least early on. The 50 or so games Waiters was coming off the bench could have speeded up that process. Sure, there were growing pains going on up and down the roster. But one would have to call Waiters being taken out of the starting lineup a downside to the 33-49 season.
Unlike Deng, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, both Irving and Waiters are still under contract in Cleveland. If Deng is correct, and these two really do like each other, then they must find a way to express that relation on the court next season.
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