Christmas is fast approaching. All of the classic movies are airing on TV, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. When I happened to catch some of the movie recently, I was struck by the similarities between Hermey the Elf and Dion Waiters.
Hermey was a pretty mediocre elf. He didn’t enjoy making toys, and frankly, he didn’t do a very good job at making them either. He toiled away for Santa all day in the North Pole, when he knew he didn’t fit in with the other elves. His ultimate goal was to become a dentist. Tired of living as an outsider among the other elves, he ran away from the workshop, and met up with Rudolph. Hermey, Rudolph, and gold-miner Yukon Cornelius go on an adventure together, traversing the North Pole. Hermey saves his friends from the Abominable Snow Monster by yanking out his teeth, showcasing his worth as a dentist. The trio returned to Santa’s headquarters, Rudolph saves Christmas, and the head elf grants Hermey permission to open a dentistry. He fills all the cavities, teaches everyone in the North Pole how to floss, and everyone lives happily ever after.
The moral of the story is you need to know when something is not a right fit. Hermey realized the toy room was not the place for him, and it took him running away and adventuring through perilous conditions before ultimately being granted his wish to practice as a dentist. Just like Hermey, Waiters is not satisfied with his current set up in Cleveland. Rumors surfaced recently that Waiters had demanded a trade from the Cavaliers with his eyes set on joining the Chicago Bulls or Philadelphia 76ers. He later denied the accusations, but given all the rumors that have popped up over the past few months it seems likely that Waiters does indeed want to join a new franchise.
You can’t blame him. The fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft has slightly improved this season after a subpar rookie season. He’s averaging 14.9 PPG, barely up from his previous average of 14.7 PPG. However, his shooting percentages have greatly risen across the boards: he now shoots 43.1% from the field, up from 41.2% last year, and 40.3% from three-point land, compared to 31% last season. Furthermore, his Player Efficiency Rating has risen from 13.7 to 14.3.
Waiters had played pretty poorly until moving to the bench. As a starter he was only scoring 13.3 PPG, but in 13 games as a reserve, that number has increased to 15.9 PPG. He has played comparable minutes, still averaging about 28 minutes per game, but playing with the reserves has given him more freedom to work for his own shot, serving as the main scoring option in the offense. Waiters and Kyrie Irving don’t mix well together. Both are shot-happy guards who don’t shoot at especially efficient percentages. They both like having their hands on the ball, and creating their own shot. Separating the two has worked extremely well for Waiters, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s destined for a future as a perennial backup.
On a young team like the 76ers or an offensive-starved team like the Bulls, Waiters could become the primary option. His minutes could increase and taken on a role that could maximize his talents as a scorer. Also, it’s not as if the Cavs have suddenly played fantastic basketball with Waiters on the bench. They still sit at six games under .500 and continue to play inconsistently. Doesn’t it seem obvious that they should look to trade Waiters and acquire a piece to shore up their starting lineup? If they’re so committed to making the playoffs, they must know that with Waiters, the team will still be mediocre, but they could use him to trade bait to improve the team.
So like the head elf, the Cavaliers better realize sooner or later that this is not a perfect match. Teams mess up draft picks all the time, there’s no point in holding on to Waiters to try to make it work. He allegedly wants to play somewhere else, and, just as Hermey found success as a dentist, he may find success playing for a team like the Bulls or 76ers. There’s still about two months until the trade deadline, but the Cavs should start working to move Waiters. It’ll be best for both sides.