By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Dion Waiters is back in Oklahoma City , has been since early Saturday morning when he and his new teammates with the Miami Heat flew in from a game in Toronto .
Waiters spent one-and-a-half seasons with the Thunder and he told The Oklahoman in an exclusive interview that he “learned how to win,” from the Thunder.
“I pretty much learned everything I know from OKC,” he said.
Both Thunder coach Billy Donovan and forward Nick Collison were asked about Waiters after OKC’s Sunday practice and Russell Westbrook told reporters after today’s shootaround that he has stayed in contact with Waiters.
"Dion’s a good guy, I still talk to Dion to this day,” Westbrook said. “He’s definitely a team guy that wants to win. Obviously things didn’t work out here but I still talk to him and check in on him from time to time.”
“I really enjoyed Dion,” Donovan said. “Dion’s very, very bright. I felt like in coaching him, his ability to know the game, his smarts about the game was really, really good. And I really enjoyed everything about Dion. I thought as the season wore on last year he got better and better and certainly was a huge contributor to us in the playoffs.”
He average almost 28 minutes per game during last season’s playoffs and hit 37.5 percent of his 3-point shots.
“He changed his game,” Collison said. “When he got here, the ball would stop when he'd get it. By the end he was really good at shooting open shots or driving and moving it. He was one of our best two-way wing players. He did a good job for us.”
Such a good job that most folks believed Waiters was in for a big payday on a new contract. The Thunder couldn’t come to terms with Waiters and with Kevin Durant leaving for Golden State , Waiters pretty much knew his time in OKC was likely up.
"At the end of the day, if they would have kept it together, I'm pretty sure I would have went back one more year to see what we could do because we were 24 minutes away from the finals," Waiters told the Palm Beach Post. "Once things went the way it went I kind of knew."
He ended up signing a 2-year, $5.9 million deal with the Heat and has been starting in Dwyane Wade’s old spot. Waiters, however has struggled at times so far, he’s averaging 11 points a game on 35 percent shooting. He was just 2-for-8 in Friday’s loss to Toronto , scoring just four points.
The Heat have struggled this season, losing three of their first five games and that probably should be expected with Wade and LeBron James playing for different teams and Chris Bosh sidelined indefinitely with health problems.
Miami still has big man Hassan Whiteside creating havoc though. Whiteside is averaging 20.0 points a game and 14.2 rebounds plus 2.6 blocks per game.
The Thunder lead the NBA in both percentage of points scored in transition (19.8) and in the paint (51.4) and Westbrook says just because Whiteside is patrolling that area for the Heat is no reason to shy away.
“I’m not scared of nobody at the basket,” he said. “There’s no reason to be afraid to attack the basket. If he’s gonna block some shots then he’s gonna have to go block ‘em, I understand, that’s his job. But our job is to stay in attack mode.”