Where was Dion Waiters?
That's the question everybody has been asking after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder 106-91 on Sunday night. To frame it as the ultimate question that stands as the difference between a win and a loss is foolish, but it's a question worth asking.
After a solid first quarter/half, Waiters played with the starters to begin the second half like usually. Once he was taken out at that point, he was apparently done for the night. He finished after playing just 21:11, significantly less time than the 29 minutes he had been playing in previous games. After the game, reporters asked Byron Scott a particularly loaded question that really doesn't help us find out why Dion went missing. The question was something to the effect of: "Did you sit Dion because Daniel Gibson was playing so well or was it a "Dion problem"?
Byron answered: "A little of both and I'll leave it at that."
First of all, I don't know who asked the question, so I'm not trying to rip on anybody. These guys are doing their jobs and on the surface it doesn't seem like that bad of a question. But secondly, what the heck is a "Dion problem"? You ask that question about a player that has a history of clashing with the coach. You could ask that about DeMarcus Cousins. Or JR Smith. But Dion Waiters? What is a "Dion problem"? Is he notorious in Cleveland for something I don't know about?
Basically, the question let Byron Scott off the hook and we found out nothing. Yes, Boobie Gibson was playing well, so that's a nice reason to give. But when Byron Scott can half-heartedly confirm that it was a "Dion problem", you get no information. It could be that his thigh bruise was bothering him again. It could be that he had attitude about something. It could be that Byron didn't like his effort on defense. It could be that Dion had to rush home to DVR the newest episode of Storage Wars.
We could have avoided a lot of assuming and hypothesizing if the reporter had simply asked: "Why didn't you play Dion much in the second half?" Don't answer the question for him. We probably would have learned a lot more if it had been phrased that way.
But really, it's not that big of a deal. Dion is a rookie who has played 7 career NBA games. Most of us probably didn't even expect him to be in the starting lineup at this point. So when you see that a head coach only played a rookie 21 minutes, you probably shouldn't freak out. It didn't cost us the game and it's probably good that Byron is able to send a message to his young players before they develop bad habits.
One fan on Twitter was complaining that if Dion was benched for his bad defense, then Kyrie Irving should have been too. He doesn't think it's fair to play favorites and give some guys preferential treatment. He has a point that Kyrie wasn't exactly shutting anybody down. But at the same time, you can't coach everybody the same. Maybe Kyrie is more responsive to criticism on the court and had a better attitude about what he was being told. Or maybe you bench Dion because he's playing bad defense, but so is the entire team, and you can't bench everybody -- so you pick your battles and try to send a message to your rookie with star potential. Or maybe it's completely fair to give Kyrie preferential treatment over a rookie who has played seven games because it's Kyrie Irving. Yes, his defense needs work, we know that. But his effort on that side of the ball has been much better this year (even though he's been battling illness recently). And it's Kyrie Irving. By all accounts, he's earned more leeway with Byron.
Ultimately, we'll probably just have to wait and see. Byron Scott might address it again the next time he talks to the media and then we'll get more information. Or maybe we'll just have to wait and see how Byron handles Dion Waiters' minutes in the future. If he starts cutting down Waiters' minutes, we might start to wonder what about the problem (even though Waiters has been playing more minutes that I expected him to as a rookie). But in my (perhaps naive) opinion, it's something that they will work out on their own and Dion Waiters will go back to playing starter minutes in the next game against the Brooklyn Nets. But freaking out is fun too.