Dion Waiters is a fascinating individual. Rumors of his locker room clashes with Kyrie Irving has dogged him through this most recent stretch of his career, adding a flavorful undertone to his exit from Cleveland. Now he joins the Oklahoma City Thunder, a mysterious fit between a player with some notoriety for irrational confidence and a team with two of the most ball-dominant players in the league.
But we can at least say this with some certainty: the Thunder didn't send out anything of significant value. There was a point in time last night where it looked like Reggie Jackson was going to be heading to New York, and that might've gotten violent. Reggie is likely headed out sooner or later – whether by trade or by free agency. His price tag will likely be around the $48 million that Kemba Walker secured from the Charlotte Hornets, and it wouldn't hurt the Thunder to sell his restricted free agency rights in advance, especially if they don't envision themselves holding on to him.
Waiters wasn't the right return for Jackson, though. For Lance Thomas and a first round pick, the trade is a lot easier to swallow. Thomas has impressed coaches with his effort level in his brief time with the Thunder, making the team as a training camp invite, but his skillset runs short. His range doesn't extend into 3-point range, he can't dribble and he's something of a tweener.
The first round pick, likely to be transferred this summer because of the top-18 protection, isn't of significant value either. The Thunder haven't even found room in their rotation for Mitch McGary and have Josh Huestis waiting in the wings as well, both 2014 draftees. Like always, they have no shortage of prospects. Maybe the pick could've netted a better return, especially since it'll likely come a few picks earlier than your usual Thunder first rounder, but at the least they weren't set back in trade value.
On Dion Waiters to the Thunder
What I want to know is how the Thunder view Waiters. His reputation in the league has been a mixed one, and while the scoring talent has always been there, Waiters has taken after the likes of Michael Beasley and J.R. Smith in overestimating his own ability. He's never had an efficient season in his young career, registering a self-best .508 True Shooting Percentage last year that still falls well below league average. Waiters is the NBA's best meme after Josh Smith, and the initial feeling I had upon hearing of the trade was dread.
Does he make the Thunder worse? On some days, maybe. The talent is there for sure – Waiters is a fluid dribbler that shows a knack for attacking the gap in defenses, and he can flip the ball high up the glass to convert over a taller defender, an important skill for any slashing guard in the NBA. At 6'4" with a 210-pound frame, he's explosive, quick and strong, all attributes that serve him well.
Where it gets dicey is when he starts shooting jumpers. Waiters can shoot out to 3, albeit with some inconsistency. But those consistency issues get exaggerated by his bottomless pool of confidence, the one that you see accessed whenever he pulls the trigger on contested looks out of isolation and turnaround fadeaway jumpers out of mid-post chances. Waiters is the type of guy who would beg the ball out of the hands of the best/second-best player in the world.
The hope has to be that Scott Brooks can coax a better, smarter Waiters over the Cavs model. David Blatt would run isolation sets for him, ones that would get him the ball in the mid-post off a curl or stationary on the wing. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson on board, maybe Brooks will know better than to feed the beast. I can't say I'm confident on this, not after Brooks fed Caron Butler last season the same type of isolations that Waiters has seen in Cleveland.
Waiters is at least cheap labor on the third year of a rookie deal. For better or for worse, the Thunder will have some time to develop him. There may be games where he single-handedly tanks the Thunder's efficiency, and for all the jokes that can be made about the Thunder's lack of offensive "flow," Waiters can still mess with the team's feng shui on that end. Westbrook and Durant won't like having a new guy constantly demanding for the ball.
Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones have never figured it out, and now with Waiters in tow, they're likely finished in Brooks' rotation. Hopefully Waiters can pan out better, and even in the meantime there should be days where he's a definite upgrade over them. Andre Roberson and Anthony Morrow have both been terrific this season at shooting guard, but Waiters adds a spice of ball-handling dynamism that neither provide. It's a legit question whether or not his own tendencies will ever step out of the way, but Waiters has real hoops skill that can go towards becoming a good player.
It's hard to envision what a polished product would look like – maybe a bulkier Monta Ellis that finds solace as a system slasher – but like all other frustratingly talented prospects, Waiters has shown flashes from time to time. Seeing him locked in for the long haul is the hard part.
On the cap implications
This is really interesting, because dumping Lance Thomas' minimum contract for Waiters sends the Thunder into the luxury tax. This is same luxury tax that the Thunder avoided by taking the unprecedented route of sending a first-round pick into the D-League for a year (Huestis). After all that effort, the team is now a little more than $2 million over.
There are still many trade avenues for the Thunder to explore, and they can waive Ish Smith for $861,405 of additional relief. Kendrick Perkins (a $9.6 million expiring contract), Lamb and Jones (both on the third year of their rookie deal) are the most likely players to be moved. If any teams come forward with a reasonable trade offer, Jackson can likely be had too. I imagine all four have some degree of trade value, meaning if there's anything else the Thunder want to add to their team, they could have the means to do so. But at the least, they'll move somebody to duck under the tax.
On the rest of the trade
The New York Knicks will appreciate whatever cap relief they can get, so offloading Iman Shumpert (boy, has his trade value plummeted quickly) and J.R. Smith is nice for them. Getting Jackson would've been huge for them, and they'll likely continue to pursue him with their non-existent trade assets. (Take that, Masai Ujiri.)
The Cleveland Cavaliers hilariously get OG Dion Waiters in J.R. Smith, and most importantly a shadow of a 3-and-D player in Iman Shumpert. Shumpert is a terrific get for them, as a player who should be able to stay mostly out of the way on offense and knock down a 3 while holding the wing down on defense. Smith at least is an upgrade over Waiters in the present, with a little more efficiency at the cost of upside that the Cavs were unlikely to realize. They also got the first-rounder that the Thunder sent out, a nice get for them.
The Cavs still need a rim protector, and I'm surprised they didn't take back Samuel Dalembert (who got waived instead). Dalembert is almost Perkins-level bad, but the one thing he offers is rim protection and it's hard to overstate the Cavs' need for rim protection right now.