NEW YORK — Dion Waiters returned to practice Saturday with the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena, his first time on the court with teammates since warming up prior to the Nov. 7 game in Phoenix.
When Waiters makes his season debut remains in question.
Back after serving a 10-game suspension for what the Heat deemed "conduct detrimental to the team," Waiters again was at work in advance of the Heat's three-game trip that opens Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center.
As has been the case since his initial team suspension for the Oct. 23 season-opening victory over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies, Waiters was not made available for comment, but did issue a statement that read:
"I would like to apologize to my teammates, coaches, basketball staff, the fans and the entire organization for the incident that happened on the team plane. I was wrong and take responsibility for what happened and am sorry for what it put everyone through. I am happy to be back with my teammates and am looking forward to getting back on the court playing basketball."
Waiters was suspended by the team on Nov. 9, retroactive to a road loss a night earlier to the Los Angeles Lakers, in the wake of an incident on the team flight that media reports cited involving a marijuana-based edible.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Waiters apologized to teammates and was remorseful.
"His conditioning is at least at a level where we can work with him and get him to the next step," Spoelstra said. "And we just want to put this all behind us, get him with the team, and move on from here.
"Look, we've had enough time around each other, we understand that a lot of things happen over the course of an NBA season. What we discussed in the sanctuary of our locker room, I just want to keep between us. But we want to move on from this and get him back with the team."
Waiters' 10-game suspension ended with Friday night's victory over the Golden State Warriors, with the Heat 6-4 over that span.
Waiters has yet to join teammates on the bench for a game, with Sunday, at the least, expected to produce that breakthrough. Beyond the games suspended, he was listed as out one game with a stomachache, listed as "Did Not Play — Coach's Decision" four times and twice listed as "Not With Team."
Teammates said they embrace Waiters' return.
"He's a part of the team. He's a great teammate. We want him back," said Goran Dragic, who previously had paired with Waiters as the Heat's starting 7-Eleven backcourt, a nickname given to reflect the jersey numbers of Dragic and Waiters. "Of course, we're going to see what kind of shape he's in. And from there on, we're going to work for him, especially to get him in better shape, try to get him in in rhythm. And then we'll see."
Waiters had offered social-media posts showing him working out at both Syracuse University and the University of Miami during his 10-game suspension.
The upshot is that Waiters has yet to play in a regular-season game as a teammate of Heat prized offseason acquisition Jimmy Butler.
"He's one of our brothers," Butler said. "He's been in the trenches with us in preseason. And he's always around. We want him back. Great individual. Hell of a ballplayer, as well. Get him back here and we're going to do what we continue to be doing."
Spoelstra said he could envision a need going forward.
"I've been around enough teams that no matter what happens during the season, you need everybody, everybody that's on your roster," Spoelstra said. "And, as the head coach, I'll continue to be open-minded to whatever is best for this team."
Spoelstra said he was heartened by teammates' embrace of Waiters.
"You certainly want guys to have empathy for each other," he said, "and to have a perspective on team inner workings and chemistry and all of that. We have a good group in that locker room, and this won't change that, at all."
Waiters lost $913,000 of his $12.1 million salary due to his two suspensions, as well as a $1.2 million bonus he would have received for appearing in at least 70 games this season. The National Basketball Players Association has filed an appeal over the lost wages, but not over the lost bonus.
Waiters has this season and next season, at $12.7 million, remaining in the four-year free-agency contract he signed with the Heat after a breakout 2016-17.