Miami Heat guard Dion Waiters discusses his season debut Wednesday in Cleveland.
MIAMI — Dion Waiters doesn't want to hear about what he can't do. It doesn't even matter if he actually can't do it.
"I can't think about everything else or the negativity," Waiters said by his locker Wednesday night after playing in an NBA game for the first time in more than a year. "Because coming in with negative thoughts, you're going to get negative outcomes."
So even after Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra stood alongside hours earlier explaining how this might not be the night of his return from last January's ankle surgery, the self-assured 27-year-old believed otherwise.
Just as he envisioned providing the spark for a team already on the move.
Which he did.
Just as he envisioned this moment itself, this I-told-you-so instance of redemption.
"And the end of the day," he said, wry smile very much back on its game, "you've got to bet on yourself."
That the return was limited to 10:42 in a blowout victory over the dreadful Cleveland Cavaliers was secondary, as was the 3-of-9 shooting that included 1 of 6 on 3-pointers.
"I've been working my ass off," Waiters said. "I felt like coming into it I was ready. When I'm coming into the game, the only thing I can do is think [positive]. It was nice, just all the hard work that you put in, the rehab day in and day out, that constant grind. Just for those shots to fall, it felt good.
"I was just excited to get back," Waiters said, with the Heat next turning their attention to Friday night's game against the Washington Wizards at AmericanAirlines Arena. "Like I said, it's been a year and change of just trying to get back.”
Wednesday's summoning came on a night Dwyane Wade was sidelined by the stomach virus that has navigated the locker room. It also came on a night when just about every Heat wing who played thrived, each arguably to a greater degree than Waiters.
Into those cramped quarters stands Waiters' desire for more.
"Absolutely," he said. "But it's going to take time, so it is what it is. You're trying speed this process up but still taking my time, still working on that extra conditioning and things like that, get acclimated. But whenever the training wheels come off, I'm ready."
Spoelstra's vision is on something greater, with the Heat clearly lacking Waiters' uniqueness in last season's five-game first-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. The last thing the Heat or Waiters can afford now is a setback.
"Long term, that's how I'm looking at it," Spoelstra said. "Like, this is big picture, this is not about now many minutes he's going to get right now. Because, we have a team that really started to make some strides the last five weeks. And we have a lot of depth. And we have some guys that are finally healthy at the same positions.
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"So these are going to be challenging decisions from my spot and that's what I'm here to do. They're not going to be easy. But it'll have the big picture in mind and we'll get him going."
And if they butt heads over such decisions, well, they've been there before.
"I like Dion," Spoelstra said. "There's a lot of narrative probably that's out there. I've gotten to know him pretty well. I've been to Philly. We've spent a lot of time together. We butted heads sometimes at first. But we've come to, over the years, to find some common ground.
"In the competitive feel, we're not that far apart. He has a very charming side to him. And the competitive side, as long as it’s channeled the right way, is our language. And we speak that language, as well. That's just a matter of getting directed in a collective way and in the right direction."