After being traded from the Cavaliers to the Thunder, Dion Waiters selected jersey No. 23 – which some saw as a possible message to LeBron James.
Waiters in a Q&A with the media, as transcribed by Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:
Why you wearing 23?
They didn’t have any numbers. I wanted 3, I wanted 1. They didn’t have that. So I said, OK, I’m gonna take 13 because I wanted 1, they didn’t have 1. Then 13, they didn’t want me to wear 13. 23, I didn’t want to wear 23. My favorite number is 3. They just gave me 23.
You remember who wore 13?
Yeah, James (Harden). So they didn’t want me to wear 13. Guess they wanted me to have my own identity. We gonna make 23 look good though.
In Cleveland and at Syracuse, Waiters wore No. 3, which Perry Jones has in Oklahoma City. The franchise also retired No. 1 for former Seattle SuperSonic Gus Williams.
Harden’s No. 13 obviously isn’t retired, but you can see why the Thunder wouldn’t want Waiters to wear it. You can see why they wouldn’t want any reminders of Harden.
Trading Harden to the Rockets rather than offering him a max contract extension is Sam Presti’s biggest mistake. Harden has turned into an MVP candidate in Houston, and “What if?” questions plague Oklahoma City.
Waiters stylistically follows Harden as the Thunder’s bench scorer, but Waiters won’t come close to matching Harden’s production.
Along those lines, Waiters also spoke about more substantive issues. Via Slater:
Have they seen you, really get to see you do what you could do?
Nah, I’ve always been like held back a little bit from really reaching and showing what I can do. I think last year I got a chance to do that when guys went down and I was able to show what I can do in that time.
Here’s the problem with Waiters: His natural style works best as the centerpiece of an offense, but he’s nowhere near good enough to be a centerpiece of an offense.
Yes, Waiters averaged 21.2 points, shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 35.2 percent on 3-pointers, and 4.2 assists per game while starting Cleveland’s final 15 games last season. And yes, the Cavaliers went a pretty-good-for-them 7-8 while outscoring opponents by 30 points.
But the more you watch Waiters, those numbers seem unsustainable over a larger sample. He obviously plays better when his team’s strategy is geared toward him, but that’s true of everyone in the league. Few players justify that treatment, though, and Waiters isn’t one of them.
It’s hard to see Waiters fitting well with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the starting lineup. For it to happen, the Thunder would absolutely need to hold back Waiters.
He works better off the bench, where he’ll have more control of the offense. Andre Roberson – a low-usage, defense-first wing – fits better as a starter.
Still, even if playing mostly with a reserve unit, Waiters will be playing with other capable scorers like Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow. The sooner Waiters realizes he should hold back some of his natural game, the better off he and the Thunder will be.