The Oklahoma City Thunder have turned Dion Waiters into a free agent by rescinding their qualifying offer, and it’s rumored that the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers are teams interested in signing him.
The Thunder, however, did not renounce Waiters, which means they retain his Bird rights for now, and also a $12.8 million cap hold, until he signs with someone else. While many view moves like this as the organization being cruel to a player, considering the big money has “dried up” at this point of free agency, Waiters could have signed the $6.8 million qualifying offer at any time, only he chose not to. The Thunder now can’t match any offer sheets he signs with anyone.
Why the Nets and the Sixers? They’ve been linked to him previously in free agency, but both teams weren’t that interested in making a big offer sheet, maybe afraid he’ll actually accept it. The Nets signed two players to offer sheets in the offseason: Tyler Johnson of the Miami Heat and Alan Crabbe of the Portland Trail Blazers. Both teams chose to match the offer sheet and retain the players. I don’t think the Nets wanted to sign both players, but one would have been helpful.
Both the Sixers and Nets have plenty of money to throw at Waiters and a need for some quick scoring from the backcourt, but players remaining free agents at this point (except for LeBron James) are probably waiting for something that will never come. Waiters saw all the big money being thrown around and thought he’d get something a lot bigger than the qualifying offer he got from the Thunder. However, Waiters, like Lance Stephenson, isn’t viewed by teams as a building blocks for a number of years, despite his obvious talent.
Waiters was traded from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2014-2015 season, when it was clear it was no longer going to work between him and Kyrie Irving in the backcourt, and even more so when LeBron James and Kevin Love joined the team. Waiters sees himself as a guy a team should go to on every possession and an elite scorer, but it’s hard showing that next to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. He averaged 9.8 points in 27.6 minutes, shooting 39.9% from the field.
Waiters is a talented scorer, and can create for himself and others, and even play some good defense. But it happens when he’s not busy discussing with himself why he’s not touching the ball as much as he should, and why he isn’t being paid as much as he should. For both the Sixers and the Nets, giving Waiters a long term contract doesn’t seem to make sense. He’s only 24, so he has time to prove he’s not what everyone thinks he is, but that will only come with a 1+1 contract including a team option or something similar. Young teams worried about chemistry can’t risk getting tied down to him for too long. It can also work well for Waiters: If he has a big season in 2016-2017, he can hit free agency with the cap rising once again, only this time not being viewed as a problem.
Meanwhile, the Thunder are moving on. Maybe clearing cap space so they can offer Russell Westbrook an extension, and maybe, now that they’ve acquired Victor Oladipo and brought over Álex Abrines from Barcelona, they simply don’t need him anymore. They have players to score points in the backcourt, and Waiters becomes too much of a headache to hang on to.