Dion Waiters has gone missing. At least this is what the story has evolved into, grade school telephone style. The Cleveland Cavaliers are adamant that their second-year shooting guard is home sick, loading up with multiple illness-ridding prescriptions. The timing of Waiters’ absence—no tweets published, nary an Instagram upload—is a subject of scrutiny as it comes just hours after the Cavaliers held a players only meeting, one which got somewhat contentious, but did not approach anything in the way of physical confrontation. Waiters, as he has been prone to, is having a bit of an up-and-down season; his backcourt teammate, Kyrie Irving, has had much of the same. But it was Irving who appeared the very next day with a black eye and a mask while Waiters had fallen off of the grid.
The speculation swirled, fueled largely by Twitter and the Great Unknown, ultimately providing headlines like this. Despite the attempts of many to toss a wet blanket on this smoldering story, the correlation of The Meeting with The Disappearance was odd if not outright impossible to deny.
The fact that Cavaliers players confronted one another following a 29-point loss is a good thing. For Kyrie Irving to have his head coach excuse himself so that he could kick off an airing of grievances shows a much-needed quality that has been missing for the majority of the last two-plus seasons. It’s reasonable to assume that it was this—the meeting, the fallout—that Mike Brown had been referring to in the post-game media scrum where he appeared to be somewhat accepting of the fact that his team was just embarrassed by a team they had beaten just a week earlier.
“I saw some things that make me think that this team has some fight and some character,” said Brown following the loss. “I saw it tonight. I saw some stuff on the court, some stuff on the bench, listening to guys talk and how they feel. We like some of the things that were being said, things that were said on the bench, some of the things done on the bench by most of the guys.”
Irving managed to put up another 41 points as the Cavaliers topped the Washington Wizards for what seems like the millionth time in the last 10 years. Though it was not without friction (after all, it took an overtime period complete with ear lobe pulling and constant finagling of the straps which keep his mask affixed to his head), Irving managed to harness his days of old, putting this Cavaliers team on his shoulders when it mattered the most. Certainly, it wasn’t pretty—there were costly turnovers and untimely fouls—but it was a win that mattered very much to the players inside of the Cavaliers locker room. It speaks volumes that a team puts itself in must-win territory during the middle of November, but such was the case.
[Related: Is Dion Waiters primed to make the leap?]
But as this team sits at 4-7, representing the 10th seed in the East1 and waiting for their impending mid-week rematch with the Wizards, much of the discussion will revolve around their absentee shooting guard. There have been rumors that Waiters was about to be demoted from his starting role, a role that is very important to him. Had he been able to play on Friday, it is believed that CJ Miles, a player who is off to a solid start this season, would have had his name called among the starting five. Assuming that there is an illness, is it related to this potential switch? After all, it’s not like the Cavaliers had sputtered out of the gate solely due to their starting shooting guard—his numbers, to that point, were largely in line with his rookie season with improvement in his three-point shooting, as well as Mike Brown-friendly areas like rebounding and steals2.
Nevertheless, the team insists that there is nothing more to this story. They don’t appear to be upset that the story of the players only meeting has leaked out. They continue to provide information on Waiters’ standing, wasting no time in making the media aware that he would not be traveling with the team in their trip to Washington. Recall, right around this time last season, both Waiters and teammate Tyler Zeller (and then trainer Max Benton) were hospitalized following a team event; the team gave no indication of this until Byron Scott let it slip during his pre-game address. Changing up the starting lineup and rotation was something that Brown had put in place a week ago after it became very evident that Earl Clark was not going to cut it as the starting small forward; Andrew Bynum’s health also allowed for a bit of a change in the frontcourt. But the details remain largely unturned as to what, if anything, this all meant for the sensitive shooting guard. The team took Sunday off as they had just finished up a back-to-back slate. And let’s be honest, given all that transpired over the last week, some soul-searching down time might not have been the worst thing for them.
Until this whole situation unfolded, Waiters appeared to be one of the more improved players in the Cavaliers locker room when it came to the mental side of the game. He showed up to training camp in incredible shape, knew what was going to be asked of him, and was largely more affable than a season ago. Following the team’s Opening Night win over the Brooklyn Nets, he seemed just as excited to talk about Michael Carter-Williams’ stunning debut, 22 points, 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals—an NBA record for a player’s debut, harkening back to their alma mater. Following the game, Waiters picked up his infant son and waltzed off as if he had hit the game-winning shot despite having just 11 points in what was a rough shooting night. It was only a few days before The Meeting where Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal had glowing things to say about Waiters. “Something has just looked different about Waiters lately, it just looks like something is clicking with him,” writes Lloyd.
“It’s my attitude,” Waiters said. “A couple talks I had with my agent talking about some things just motivating me. I was letting the game get me so frustrated.”
Someone isn’t talking and the Social Media activity of the shooting guard, or lack thereof, is only the tip of the Wine and Gold iceberg. Perhaps the talk and it’s positive reinforcement was short-lived. Perhaps this is nothing at all. The team could certainly benefit from all of this drama passing over. Unfortunately, more often than not, at least in the vacuum of Cleveland sports, these sort of items tend to get worse before they get better. Until then, there’s an APB on No. 3. The merit of such should be determined in the coming days.
(Image: Michael Ivins-US PRESSWIRE)
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- Waiters’ defensive rebounding rate is up to 12 percent from just 8.8 a year ago; his defensive rating has drastically improved, going from 111 last season to 102 thus far [↩]