CLEVELAND: The proof that Dion Waiters’ move to the bench is long term arrived this week. Kyrie Irving has missed the last three games with a knee injury and Andrew Bynum is gone, yet Waiters remains a reserve in Mike Brown’s offense.
When Waiters was initially moved to a bench role, the belief throughout the organization was he wasn’t a good fit alongside Irving and Bynum. Irving plays with the ball in his hands more than most point guards, and Bynum needed his touches. Adding a third ball-dominant player was too much.
But Bynum’s time in Cleveland is over and he is expected to become a free agent by 5 p.m. today. Irving doesn’t appear close to returning. The official diagnosis is day to day with a knee contusion, but he’s missed a week and Brown said he’d like to see Irving in practice before playing him. Since the Cavs were off on Monday, the odds of him playing tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers seem slim.
Brown was asked prior to each of the last two games if he had any intention of moving Waiters into the starting lineup. The answer both nights was no.
“He’s been great for us off the bench,” Brown said.
The Cavs are averaging 82 points and shooting 35 percent in three games without Irving. Despite not starting, Waiters is still playing his typical allotment of minutes and is usually on the court to close games.
He was terrific in the fourth quarter last week against the Orlando Magic, tying the game on a layup in the final seconds to force overtime. He shot the ball well Friday at Brooklyn, ending the night with 26 points in a loss, then scored 12 consecutive points in the fourth quarter Saturday when the Cavs nearly forced the Indiana Pacers into overtime.
Waiters conceded without Irving, he feels more pressure to score on a team struggling to find points.
“I know they’re going to come to me, especially when we need a bucket or a big play,” he said. “Those types of moments, you just have to be ready.”
Brown compared Waiters to Manu Ginobili, who comes off the bench for the Spurs. He has also been compared to James Harden and Jamal Crawford, both scorers who succeeded in bench roles. Harden didn’t fully blossom until he was traded to the Houston Rockets prior to the start of last season.
Brown has been reluctant to move Waiters back into the starting role temporarily, only to have to pull him back out when Irving is healthy. Waiters’ defensive effort is inconsistent, and his shot is erratic. When he gets hot, as he did in the fourth quarter Sunday against the Pacers, he can carry a team for stretches. But he started Sunday’s game shooting 1-for-6 through the first three quarters before catching fire. That type of inconsistency has plagued his career.
“Dion is a guy who probably can start some places,” Brown said. “But I like his role right now coming off the bench as a spark plug offensively and then even defensively he has the capabilities of being a great defender. He’s in the process of learning and growing on that end.”
As for Bynum, the Cavs will have to decide today whether to release him, trade him or keep him on the roster and pay him another $6 million. No deal was completed Monday with the Los Angeles Lakers, who flew to Texas for the start of a road trip in Dallas.
Bynum must be traded and released by 5 p.m. today in order for another team to clear $12 million off their cap. With time running out, the Cavs will likely have to waive the physical for any player they acquired.
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