Dion Waiters shows his attractive side

CLEVELAND -- Earlier this season the Cleveland Cavaliers called the Memphis Grizzlies to see if they were interested in trading Kosta Koufos, the Grizzlies' effective backup center.

The Grizzlies haven’t been willing thus far to part with Koufos, a 7-footer who is an underrated rim defender with a reasonable contract, despite getting calls about him since last summer. In addition to the Cavs, the Sacramento Kings are among the teams that are interested.

Dion Waiters' name has come up in these talks. He has been out there to various teams as the Cavs scour the league for defensive help in recent weeks.

Cavs general manager David Griffin has been quite frank, publicly saying that no one on his team is untouchable in trade talks. Though you can assume LeBron James is off limits.

Griffin has backed this up. Since he was named the general manager in February he has executed seven trades, he has sent away 13 players and acquired seven. As for Waiters, he’s one of the Cavs' most useful assets and his name being out there is part of the business.

So there is some irony that Waiters lit up the Grizzlies for 21 points off the bench in the Cavs' 105-91 victory Sunday night. It wasn’t exactly a showcase but essentially Waiters is in a de facto showcase mode for the foreseeable future.

Trade talks/rumors are often uncomfortable. However, in this situation, it seems both the Cavs and Waiters need each other.

Waiters is still fighting to prove himself in the league and is in the middle of an important third season. This is often a point in a players’ career where his trajectory becomes more readable and, frankly, determines what sort of contract he’ll be able to attain. Waiters’ financial future is tied to how and potentially where this season plays out.

Ideally for the Cavs, Waiters would become the sort of electric off-the-bench scorer that would make him an NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate. A player who can perform such as Jamal Crawford or Jason Terry; be a fire-starter when the frontline stars rest. Crawford and Terry have both made a fantastic livings in this role even though they were starters at one point in their careers.

But even if that’s not the way it plays out, the Cavs could really use Waiters to turn a corner this season and increase his trade value so they can perhaps satisfy both parties. Currently, Waiters' trade value in the league is not strong and some of that is because he has a reputation as not being so willing to fit into that role.

When Waiters isn’t getting shots sometimes he gets frustrated and the rest of his game suffers. Actually, this happens often despite him repeatedly vowing in good faith to change that trait. And because of it, other teams are a little shy and the Cavs could be a little shy when it comes to contract extension talks next summer.

Sunday, Waiters was beaming. He led the Cavs in shots with 16 and his production helped them salt away their best win of the season to this point. The Grizzlies played without key players Zach Randolph and Tony Allen because of injuries but the Cavs controlled the game and played some excellent balanced offense as James and Kyrie Irving combined for 23 assists.

Last Friday, though, Waiters wasn’t. He didn’t even play in the second half as coach David Blatt decided to go elsewhere with the minutes. This is a weekend that sums up his career to this point, flashes of brilliance around periods of inefficiency. Sometimes this process has led to some pouting, a red mark for every team’s scouting report on Waiters and something the Cavs have to fight.

“When he’s engaged and when he’s playing freely and not allowing himself to be disturbed by other things, Dion can really play basketball,” Blatt said.

“In the beginning there’s a period of discussing and cajoling and convincing [of getting Waiters to accept a bench role]. When he knows he’s going to get his opportunities and his minutes to play, he’s fine with that. Ultimately the guys that understand it’s for the benefit of the team, they’re the ones that can benefit. I just want him to feel good about himself and stay positive.”

Blatt is the fourth consecutive coach to believe that Waiters is best suited to come off the bench. That includes Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and his three Cavs coaches: Byron Scott, Mike Brown and Blatt.

Cross that with Waiters' strong belief in himself, though, and it’s often an uphill battle. Last season there was an eight-game stretch in March when Irving was out with injury. In those eight games the then lesser-talented Cavs were turned over to Waiters and he got a glorious two weeks of being The Man.

He averaged 22 points on 20 shots a game and averaged 5.1 assists, showing he could also distribute. Given the chance, Waiters probably believes this could be his nightly production and believes he could eventually get a salary commensurate with it.

But on this team that is not is role and there is yet to be a team elsewhere that has given him that chance.

“I try to do other things besides score the ball,” Waiters said. “Once Bron and Ky go out, then I’m like 'OK, now I can do a little bit of scoring.' Once they come back in you have to find a role. My approach every game is to be locked in as far as being consistent. … I try not to go out there and think I have to make shots. You play mad, you can go out there and be mad at the world. I just try to come in and smile and keep positive.”

Since the summer, James has been working on Waiters, attempting to guide him. Another way of saying it is that he’s trying to help Waiters get paid because that means something will have fallen into place and that can only be good for both. It has been a choppy effort.

Sunday the Cavs won the bench scoring department 37-35, but it was just the sixth time in 26 games they have done so. There are a number of reasons why but part of it is Waiters doesn’t seem to always fully embrace his situation, a line that has been written about him since his college days.

But James will continue to prod and encourage and the Cavs will continue to hope nights like Sunday become more frequent, or at least the effort on nights when he gets a volume of shots gets closer to equaling the nights when he doesn’t. There’s quite a bit riding on it.

“When you’re selfless and all you care about is whether your team succeeds, things will happen for you,” James said.

“We know Dion is capable of playing some really good isolation basketball but at the same time we have to do what’s best for the team, too. It’s a fine line. It’s not about you, it’s about the team. If you’re not about the team then you should play golf.”