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Dion Waiters bet on himself and won $52 million

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He’s not a laughingstock anymore.

NBA: Miami Heat at Indiana Pacers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, Dion Waiters was a punchline.

He’d been a one-and-done picked high in the NBA draft who honestly believed he was the best player on the floor no matter who else was out there. He fought Kyrie Irving for control of the ball. (Irving is no stranger to controversies over spherical items.) He hilariously called for the ball when LeBron James had it in Cleveland, or Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook had it in Oklahoma City.

He looked too strident — like a kid with too much faith in his raw natural talent and not enough faith in hard work. Paying his dues and fitting in around superior players was not Waiters’ game. Being Dion Waiters was Waiters’ game.

As he hit restricted free agency in July 2016, there was no market for his services and he didn’t take the Thunder’s one-year, $6.8 million qualifying offer. Almost three weeks into July, the Thunder rescinded the offer to get out of the Dion Waiters business. A couple of weeks later, he finally found a match, signing what was effectively a one-year, $2.9 million deal with the Heat.

The schadenfreude was thick: Waiters had left $4 million on the table because he had overvalued himself. This was the transactional equivalent of the legendary clip of Waiters calling for the ball but being ignored by James. This was the cautionary tale and the punchline of the high-dollar 2016 NBA offseason.

No one’s laughing any more.

Waiters agreed to a four-year, $52 million contract with the Heat on Wednesday. After striking out in a summer where everyone got paid huge sums of money, Waiters came through amid a much more muted offseason. When no one would bet on Waiters in 2016, he put all of his stacks on himself and he won the pot.

When Waiters signed that flyer with Miami in 2016, it looked like a desperation move on his part. He claimed otherwise at the time:

“I didn’t do it for the money… I did it for the opportunity to go out & ball & have fun. Everything else will take care of its self!!! I just felt like it was the best situation for me…& my family. I could have waited & got wat I wanted. But I rather be happy then miserable at the end of the day!!! Meaning Yu can have everything & still not be happy… #heatnation let’s get it!!! #provethemwrong #stamped #Philly”

What did Waiters do in 2016-17? He went out and balled and had fun. Everything else took care of itself. Miami was a late-season shocker, going on a 30-11 run in the second half and coming within one game of the playoffs. Waiters racked up clutch buckets as a go-to scorer for a defense-first, athletic squad.

He often looked like the second coming of Joe Johnson. You know what Joe Johnson’s greatest NBA skill is? Getting paid. Now Waiters has that in his repertoire, too.

The Waiters turnaround is complete — another masterful piece of work by Pat Riley. Remember how heavily Waiters credits Riley in that seminal, Pulitzer-worthy Players’ Tribune piece?

Riley and the Heat leveraged Waiters and a breakout season from James Johnson to rebuild on the fly. While Waiters missed much of the loss-heavy early portion of the season, Miami went 26-17 in games he started — the equivalent of a 50-win team. This team, if healthy, is legit.

Waiters should be back in the NBA playoffs in 2018, this time as a centerpiece instead of an afterthought. If you’ve ever enjoyed a good joke at his expense, now is a good time to recognize that Waiters bet on himself and won. His overwhelming belief in himself gave us the funny moments, but it also gave Waiters the success he’s rolling in now.