INDEPENDENCE: The first time Byron Scott watched film of Dion Waiters, he instantly thought of Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade. The stocky build, his ability to get to the basket and finish, the ability to hit open shots and find other guys on the floor all had the Cavaliers coach intrigued.
But he didn’t want to be fooled by one game film, so he watched another, then another and another. After viewing about 15 game tapes, Scott made his conclusion.
“I kept coming back to the same thought,” Scott said. “The kid is good.”
Scott played shooting guard for 19 years in the NBA and won three championship rings. He knows something about the position, and the Cavs’ selection of Waiters at No. 4 on Thursday night was as much his decision as it was General Manager Chris Grant’s.
“He’s a pit bull,” Scott said. “This kid isn’t afraid of anyone.”
The Cavs brought upwards of 70 players to the Cleveland Clinic Courts over the past couple of months for a draft that included 60 players. But the two players they drafted never stepped foot inside the facility until Friday.
The Cavs had North Carolina center Tyler Zeller ranked in their top 10. When he fell out of the lottery, Grant quickly orchestrated a trade with the Dallas Mavericks to move up from No. 24 to No. 17 to snatch a legitimate 7-foot center who can run the floor and rebound immediately.
“We didn’t think Tyler was going to be on our radar,” Scott said. “We thought he was going to be in the top 10. With 4 and 24, we had no way of getting him. Once we got to 17 and made the deal with Dallas, it was a no-brainer.”
With all of the NBA talent the Tar Heels produce every year, Grant spent plenty of time in Chapel Hill, N.C., the past few seasons. One of his high school teammates is also an assistant coach on the Tar Heels’ staff.
The Waiters pick was a bit more complicated. The Cavs would’ve loved the opportunity to work him out, but Waiters followed the advice of agent Rob Pelinka and left the NBA combine before working out. He didn’t hold any private workouts because of a promise he had been given by another lottery team.
Yet despite not working out, Waiters rose to the No. 4 pick in the draft.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet, but it’s something I’ve always dreamed about,” he said. “I’ve worked very hard to get where I’m at and this has only made me want to work that much harder.”
Waiters has a checkered history. He attended four high schools in four years, clashed with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and nearly transferred after his freshman season.
As a result, this character-conscious front office did more research on Waiters than perhaps any other NBA prospect.
Coincidentally, one of Grant’s closest personal friends is also an assistant coach at Syracuse, so the Cavs got all the information they needed about him. Grant spent countless hours on Syracuse’s campus the past year watching Waiters himself.
“He has come through a lot of adversity,” Grant said. “He’s clearly the best player on that team and he was coming off the bench. He was willing to sacrifice.
“It was very obvious when he came into the game, he was the guy. He controlled the game, he won the game. He had the ball in his hands and made plays for himself and others, which is pretty exciting. He’s one of the very few young players who has gone through an enormous amount of adversity, has been held accountable and come out of it with an understanding they know what to do.”
Cavs fans have been unhappy with the pick because Waiters wasn’t a starter, he averaged 12.6 points and was named third-team All-Big East.
But scouts and executives around the league polled this week gushed about his ability and one Eastern Conference scout called him “the best scorer in this draft.”
“The fact the guy didn’t start doesn’t mean anything to me,” Scott said. “The fact that he finished pretty much every game is the biggest thing that I looked at. There was no game that he was in where the moment was too big. He seemed to really like those situations. From that perspective, being on the court with Kyrie [Irving] and having another guy who can create for himself and his teammates would just make us a better basketball team.”
Gee receives offer
The Cavaliers extended a qualifying offer to Alonzo Gee on Friday, making him a restricted free agent, a league source confirmed.
The move was widely expected after Gee set career highs with 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds this season. Grant has made it clear re-signing Gee is a priority this summer following his breakout season.
Gee made $880,000 last season and is due a significant pay raise. By making him a restricted free agent, the Cavs have the right to match any offer he receives from another team.
The Cavs have until today to decide whether or not to extend qualifying offers of about $1 million to Semih Erden and Luke Harangody. If the Cavs choose not to, both players will become unrestricted free agents and available to sign with any team.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.