The Miami Heat’s playoff hopes have taken another blow: Dion Waiters suffered an ankle during Friday night’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the team has no idea when he’s going to return.
X-rays were negative, per the Miami Herald‘s Manny Navarro, but head coach Erik Spoelstra said the team doesn’t have a timetable for his recovery. Ominous still, Waiters himself copped to the injury being more painful and serious than he would have liked (via Navarro):
“I haven’t felt pain like this in so long,” said Waiters, who spoke to reporters in the Heat locker room before Sunday’s game against the Trail Blazers while standing on crutches.
“The last time I had one of these was the last time I broke my ankle in high school. Even when I did [sprain my ankle] in Minnesota, it was a week and a couple days. I wasn’t 100 percent when I came back, but it wasn’t as severe as this one was.
“This one is a little worse than that one. But we’ve just got to continue moving in the right direction, take it day by day. I believe in my guys. I believe they’re going to hold the fort down for me. It sucks not being out there, especially the rhythm and everything we were in and I was in. But it’s a minor setback for a major comeback. I’ve got to just stay positive.”
Waiters has been one of many revelations for the Heat. Since Jan. 17, during which time Miami is an NBA-best 23-6, Waiters is averaging 18.4 points and 4.8 assists on 46.6 percent shooting—including a 44.2 percent clip from three-point range. His loss is a big hit for a Heat squad that, even during this scorching-hot stretch, doesn’t employ the most reliable floor-spacers.
This injury also adds an interesting layer to one of the NBA’s most intriguing free-agency cases. Waiters, 25, has a player option worth just over $3 million for next season. After failing to cash in on last summer’s offseason bonanza, he’s going to to decline it. And with the way he has played in Miami, he should be in line for a hefty long-term payday.
It’ll be easier for him to broker his next deal if he plays before the season is over. Teams, including the Heat, won’t write off everything he’s done because of this injury, but it’s his second ankle issue of the season. If he returns and helps the Heat make the playoffs, there’ll be even less hesitation among potential suitors.