By the time you read this it may already be moot if the Cavs have traded Dion Waiters, but if they don’t, I see no reason not to put him in the starting lineup for the rest of the season. I have heard all the reasons why he doesn’t start: He needs to have the ball in his hands, can’t co-exist with Kyrie, doesn’t defend well, doesn’t shoot well enough from outside and takes bad shots. All of that, in varying degrees, is entirely true.
Here’s something else that is entirely true: The easiest way for the Cavs to get to the next level and the level beyond that is to build around these two guys. With the possible exception of Anthony Bennett, these are easily the two most talented players on the roster. And the only way to maximize their potential is for them to be on the floor together for at least half the game. That only happens if Waiters starts.
Rather than think about all the problems this causes for the Cavs, let’s stop and think about the problems it can cause for the opposition. How many teams in the NBA have two good backcourt defenders? Trust me, we’re not the only team that can’t guard anyone. While plenty of teams have one decent perimeter defender, very few have two, especially two that play together well. What that means is that if Waiters and Irving are on the floor together it is almost certain that one of them will have a matchup advantage. Is that the case when Jarrett Jack is on the floor? Even if it was, do you really think Jack will be around when this team is good? My guess (hope) is that Jack is more likely than Waiters to be gone next week, but that’s another story.
The fact is, nothing that is wrong with Irving and Waiters has anything to do with talent. They need to learn to move without the ball, to find the open man when defenses overcommit to their penetration and not spend half of each shot clock dribbling. They also need to learn how to defend together. They will learn all of these things more quickly by playing together as much as possible. And let’s face it, it’s not like you’re sitting Waiters to make room for Kobe Bryant. Jack, if anything, has been worse than Waiters, and is far enough along in his career that there is no reason to expect any further development. I really like C. J. Miles, but he is at his best providing offense off the bench; he could be getting 20 minutes a night backing up Waiters and Luol Deng. Miles is too inconsistent to be guaranteed minutes; when his shot isn’t falling you need to be able to go to the next option.
What’s the downside of starting Waiters? The downside is that at the end of this season after 30 games it is obvious that this won’t work. At that point, you trade Waiters. At least then you know that you gave it every opportunity. If you don’t figure it out now, you risk either trading Waiters before you find out what he is capable of — which means selling low and letting him reach his potential somewhere else — or you spend next season watching Irving and Waiters learn how to play together, which probably means another season of growing pains.