Why Dion Waiters Is the Cleveland Cavaliers' Biggest Trade Chip to Dangle

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJune 24, 2014

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 9:  Dion Waiters #3 of the Cleveland Cavaliers moves the ball up-court against the Detroit Pistons at The Quicken Loans Arena on April 9, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

Although the draft lottery has treated them quite well, the Cleveland Cavaliers could look to put their annual ventures into the ping pong ball pull behind them.

The Cavs want to win now. Actually, they wanted to win last year, which is why they placed free-agent bets on Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum before trading for Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes.

After a disappointing 33-win season, Cleveland is still searching for its first playoff berth of the post-LeBron James era. That pursuit might lead the Cavaliers to the trade market, where combo guard Dion Waiters could prove far more valuable than he's been as a member of the franchise.

The former Syracuse standout has had something of a square-peg-in-round-hole existence in Cleveland. If he's the answer to an NBA question, it's not one the Cavs are currently asking.

Cleveland could use a floor spacer alongside All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, someone comfortable with working off the ball and capable of doing damage in the process.

Waiters, a career 34.2 percent three-point shooter, needs touches to be effective. He was the NBA's 30th-ranked scorer as a pick-and-roll ball-handler (0.68 points per possession), via Synergy Sports (subscription required), while ranking 277th as a spot-up shooter (1.05).

His best work comes inside the paint, an area he can probe with regularity thanks to his combination of speed, strength and athleticism. He's still learning how to consistently finish among the tall trees inside the restricted area, but getting to that point doesn't seem to be a problem.

Shot chart captured via NBA.com.

Well, it doesn't seem to be a problem for Waiters, that is. For the Cavaliers, Waiters' dribble penetrations limit the number of attacks available to Irving. Unless, of course, Waiters is banished to the second team, as he was in 46 of the 70 games he played this past season.

However, that setup forces one of Cleveland's best two players off the floor. The Cavs need the Irving-Waiters pairing to pan out, or they need to break it apart.

According to a source close to Waiters, via Fox Sports' Sam Amico, it sounds as if the franchise might soon opt for the latter:

If this is a Waiters-or-Irving call, then it shouldn't be much of a debate.

No offense to Waiters, but Irving is a two-time All-Star with an All-Star Game MVP award already to his credit. Despite having an additional year of NBA service on his resume, Irving is also a couple months younger than Waiters.

Oh, and Irving could soon be putting his signature on a max-contract offer.

Assuming Irving takes the money and stays for a while, the franchise will then need to build a formidable roster around him.

That's where potentially moving Waiters comes into play. This isn't the first time his name has been swooped up by trade winds:

ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported last summer that Waiters was part of the trade package Cleveland offered for Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star forward Kevin Love. Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling wrote in December that Waiters had asked for a ticket out of Cleveland, although the scoring guard later denied making such a request, per Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.

There's too much smoke not to be some type of fire. If the Cavs wind up making a move, it seems like Waiters will be booking some movers shortly thereafter.

Apr 12, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters (3) reacts in the second quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

He's not the most attractive trade chip in general manager David Griffin's arsenal. That honor falls on the shoulders of Irving, who Amico reported has been the source of a few calls that Griffin has received:

Waiters isn't even the second-best card in Griffin's hand.

That much became clear when the Cavs snagged the No. 1 overall pick for the third time in four years. Unlike last time around, this one is actually a highly coveted selection.

It's such a potentially valuable piece of Cleveland's buzzer that Griffin has made sure to avoid backing himself into any corners. The Cavs do not have a front-runner sitting atop their draft board, sources told ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman and Chad Ford, and have not ruled out the possibility of moving the pick:

Unless the Cavs get blown away by an offer, though, it's hard to imagine them dealing the pick. Teams that own the selection rarely give it up.

It sounds like the Cavs are surveying their options and not liking what they find:

There shouldn't be a similar split with Waiters. The Cavaliers could even find that the ball-dominant scorer has more value outside the franchise than he does within.

He was one of only six players to average at least 15 points while logging fewer than 30 minutes a night this past season, via Basketball-Reference.com. He improved both his field-goal (43.3, up from 41.2) and three-point (36.8, up from 31.0) percentages, showing the type of strides that should be made by a second-year player.

His ceiling is far from set and could potentially grow even higher with a change of scenery. As Lloyd explained, Waiters hasn't always had the best attitude toward his current situation:

Waiters acknowledges he grew irritated when he didn’t think he was getting enough touches. When the players sounded off on each other during a players-only meeting following an early season loss at Minnesota, Waiters reportedly accused Irving and Tristan Thompson of playing 'buddy ball' and not passing to him enough.

Those words might throw up a flag or two for some rival executives, but perhaps others would see this as an opportunity. Maybe they'd believe the league has yet to see the real Waiters, the one too talented to be labeled simply as a scorer.

"I want to do all the little things," Waiters said earlier this season, via Bob Finnan of The Morning Journal. "I want to find my teammates. You have to be mentally focused."

Waiters has some maturing to do, but he seems ready to embrace the process. Considering the wealth of physical tools at his disposal, the right mental approach could allow him to tap into his massive potential.

Feb 9, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) celebrates in the fourth quarter against the Memphis Grizzlies at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Franchises need to demand he takes that step, then allot him enough time to embrace the process. From the outside looking in, it's hard to say whether the Cavaliers could check either of those boxes.

It isn't hard to see, however, that Waiters is a curious fit for the current roster. He could be an address change away from having the type of NBA career befitting his status as a former No. 4 overall draft pick.

Staying patient hasn't worked for the Cavaliers, so this could be the time to get aggressive. That means moving future assets, like Waiters, for more immediate help and in turn unlocking their chance to maximize their abilities.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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