For the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Dion Waiters era is over. It doesn't quite feel real yet. Even though he was drafted in 2012, Waiters will always be uniquely identified with the 2010-2014 post-LeBron Cavs. He was such a big part of that weird four-year period. We argued about him endlessly, we rooted for him like crazy, and we watched him grow from a very young man into a slightly less young man.
Honestly, I was always an advocate for trading Waiters. Not because I wasn't impressed by his talent, but because I simply didn't see how he could co-exist with Kyrie Irving. Their skills overlapped too much. This season, when Waiters proved to be inadequate as a sixth man, there was no reason to keep him around.
But there are still things about him that I will miss. Here are some of them:
He is a competitor.
That's a cliche, I know. Every player who makes it to the NBA is probably pretty competitive.
Waiters, though, always seemed to have a different edge to him. Even on those crappy Cavs teams, late in the season when most of the guys were mailing it in, he always looked like he was ready to fight somebody. If one of his teammates got knocked down, he'd always be there to back him up.
His feistiness is something that I always sincerely appreciated.
His tweet game is strong.
Waiters is absolutely one of the few professional athletes who is worth following on Twitter. You never know what he's going to say. Sometimes, he comes very close to getting himself in trouble.
And, of course, he once gave us the greatest tweet of all time:
We don't get to argue about him anymore.
I can't decide if this is something I will actually miss, or not.
Through his two plus seasons in Cleveland, no player was more controversial than Waiters. Most non-Cavs fans thought he was a selfish wasted talent. Most of us thought he was a valuable young player who was very close to figuring it out. Now, we'll have to find out who was right while he plays for another team.
In many ways, the decision to draft Waiters in 2012 became a referendum on Chris Grant's entire tenure as General Manager. Detractors will forever believe that he blew that pick, especially because Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond were still on the board, and that by doing so he set the franchise back a couple of years. Defenders will contend that Waiters was probably the most talented player on the board at that point, and it is the job of the coach, not the General Manager, to utilize a player's talent appropriately.
Hearing him yell "AND ONE" on drives to the basket where a) there was little or no contact, and b) he missed the shot.
This has become one of the things I really look forward to every night. Waiters is almost always good for at least one of these per game. Even when there is legitimate contact and it could have been a foul, shouldn't he wait for the basket to go in before asking for only one free throw? Does he understand how basketball works?
Even those who are not fans of his game would have to acknowledge that he possess an exceptional amount of talent. There are few players in the NBA who are as quick off of the dribble. He could be so good, if only he could "figure it out."
And that's what makes him fascinating. When there was nothing tangible to cling to, there was always his potential. It always seemed like maybe, just maybe, he could become an elite guard.
Iman Shumpert is a nice player and he will probably fit better with this team. But his ceiling is much more fixed. With Waiters, it felt like the sky was the limit.
Realistically, it is unlikely that Waiters will ever reach that ceiling. But the possibility still makes him worth watching. For four years, when we had little else, at least we always had hope.
I guess that's why so many of us always defended him so vigorously. The basketball gods took away LeBron, and with him, all of our aspirations for a title. But nobody could not take away our hope. And no player represented that hope, even if it was somewhat delusional, better than Dion Waiters.