Dion Waiters says he and other Miami Heat players talked at length after last season about keeping the team together.
He did his part.
Waiters spoke publicly for the first time Saturday (Sunday, PHL time) about his decision to sign a new four-year deal that, if all incentives are met, would be worth about $52 million.
Waiters played for $2.9 million last season.
“I had the faith all along,” Waiters said while appearing at a celebrity softball game at Barry University. “Like I’ve said, you’ve got to bet on yourself sometimes. … I bet on myself and it worked.”
Waiters averaged 15.9 points last season with the Heat, and the team went 27-19 in his 46 appearances. He’ll be back for a second season — and likely well beyond — in Miami, as will forward James Johnson, who got a $60 million, four-year deal.
They get added to a core that already includes point guard Goran Dragic, center Hassan Whiteside, shooting guard Wayne Ellington (whose $6.3 million option was picked up by the Heat) and now will also have newly signed big man Kelly Olynyk. The Heat gave Olynyk a four-year deal, with an average value of more than $10 million annually.
“We can be real good, especially just knowing what we did last year,” Waiters said. “I feel we can feed off that. I just think it could be special. At the end of the day I think it could be special, especially keeping most of the guys together.”
The Heat still have some free agents who were part of last year’s team, like captain Udonis Haslem and forward Luke Babbitt. The biggest question marks, though, were Johnson and Waiters.
Miami hopes to bring back Haslem for a 15th season, though the three-time NBA champion has also heard from other teams. He has said he wants to return, and if he does it would likely be at a veteran’s minimum of $2.3 million.
Waiters took meetings with other clubs this summer, but also listened to the message from Heat President Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra. They urged patience, and Waiters assured them he was in no hurry.
His faith was rewarded.
“I knew it would work out,” Waiters said.
And Whiteside said the Heat — who went 30-11 in the second half of last season but missed the playoffs in a tiebreaker after finishing 41-41 — now have the potential to be a top-four team in the Eastern Conference.
“I’m very excited,” said Whiteside, another of the celebrity-softball players Saturday (Sunday, PHL time). “We’ve got all our guys back. We get the band back.”
And with Waiters, James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Whiteside and Olynyk among those under contract to Miami for years, the Heat now have a sense of their core.
“I’m even more happy that they’re here for so long,” Whiteside said.
Waiters said it wasn’t exactly pre-determined he would return to Miami, although he wanted to be back. He said he kept an open mind in meeting with other clubs, and heard serious pitches.
In the end, Miami’s offer — aided by the desire by last year’s team to try to stay as intact as possible — won out.
“You’ve got to make the best decision for yourself and your family,” Waiters said. “That’s what it was.”