Squashing Dissent the Erik Spoelstra Way

Putting the ball in the hole on a regular basis is an issue for the Miami Heat and it is why they are hovering around the 8th seed. They don’t have an elite shotmaker, someone you can give the ball to and say, here go at it, get us some buckets. They don’t have a top-10 offensive player. The Heat are like a college team. The star of the whole damned thing is Erik Spoelstra who, year after year, weaves his magic around a group of players that give Herculean effort and does it the team way, but can’t iso anyone. The Heat don’t have the game for that, nor do they have the personnel.

The Heat are one of the slowest paced teams in the league and they don’t score a lot of points. One of their best 2017-18 offensive lineups has been Goran Dragic, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson and James Johnson. They have a +23 advantage over their opponents. Notice who is missing though: Hassan Whiteside. And that is where the first amendement drama starts.

Whiteside has been on the bench in situations he thought he should be getting minutes; he is their max player afterall. Frustrated by his 4th quarter less is more punishment,  Whiteside went rogue on the organization as if Pat Riley was not watching all things Miami Heat. It didn’t go well for Whiteside. He was fined for first amendment activities and his very free freedom of speech that was anti-team and anti-Heat culture.

This is how Whiteside got into his feelings a little bit too much. He didn’t get the playing time against a bad Brooklyn Nets team and was on the bench for much of the 4th quarter and afterwards he was feeling very Dwight Howard-esque bitter. He said:

“Man, it’s annoying. Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bulls—-. It’s really bulls—-. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. Sh–.  That’s bulls—-.”

Let’s unpack for a moment. Yep. It’s annoying when you’re not in for the 4th quarter because that’s a presumption that the team is better without you. Is Whiteside one of the best centers in the league when you extract his salary? According to Real Plus-Minus, Whiteside is the 27th ranked center, trailing Bobjan Marjonavic (Clippers) who is ranked 26th and Amir Johnson (76ers) ranked 25th. Nikola Jokic (Nuggets) is ranked 1st. So, no, he’s not one of the best centers in the league. But productivity isn’t the issue for whining players. They all want more minutes.

This minutes thing has been an issue for Whiteside all season who has a legitimate gripe. His numbers have fallen off from last year, six minutes less per game. He has demonstated frustration but skirted around it, more or less, but on Saturday night he went full out frontal about his vexation, implying this may impact his interest in remaining a Heat. I guess he forgot that Pat Riley, the Heat GM, is the baddest dude in the building, not Whiteside. Oh, and this too. He’s Whiteside’s boss. Riley traded Shaq. Whiteside needs to tread this water real carefully.

This is what Whiteside doesn’t want to hear. He and his game don’t really fit in with this era. He doesn’t space the floor which impacts possessions and scoring. His ability to be on the court when teams go small [which every team does] isn’t a negotiable thing. He hurts the team.

Whiteside isn’t an outlier here. The Hawks benched Dwight Howard in the playoffs last year when the Hawks went small in the 4th quarter. Whiteside’s game is limited. His defense in the 4th quarter doesn’t make up for his offensive deficiencies. Despite his apology- of course you knew that was coming- this is an issue that isn’t going to go away. You have a situation where the organization feels one way about their center and Whiteside feels another way.

Erik Spoelstra did his Spoelstra clapback. With mics in his face, he calmly talked about how Whiteside needs to grow as a leader and a teammate, meaning, maturity still a work in progress. To his credit, Whiteside isn’t the pouter that Dwight Howard is. The Heat fined him but I expect him to go hard on Tuesday when the Heat play the tanking Hawks and they can clinch a playoffs spot.

Whiteside attributed his comments to being frustrated but here’s the problem. It’s happened before. By the very nature of what he said, he singled himself out as ahead of the team, more important, a me over we situation, which is not the culture. Particularly since Whiteside’s numbers have fallen when you take away his dunks, and his blocks are down. He doesn’t have the leverage to argue about individual numbers even if he is in the right, which he isn’t. Spoelstra decides who plays and who doesn’t. Nothing about that has been any different since the Heat rescued Whiteside off the scrap heap and developed him into a rim protector max player.

Brother, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.