The free agent season is two weeks old and Hassan Whiteside hasn’t changed teams. Whiteside has become a problem for two reasons and both are unsolvable. The first is perception. He wants the Heat to see him the way he sees himself as if this is the NBA circa 1988 where a defensive center is the holy grail. Second, he wants to keep his salary and shrink his salary so he can be traded. But taking the money means taking the agony when things go south.
The Miami Heat without an elite scorer have a problem. It is a putting the ball in the hole problem. They don’t have a special talent, 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 were one of the slowest paced teams in the league and they didn’t score a lot of points. One of their best 2017-18 offensive lineups was Goran Dragic, Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson and James Johnson. They had a +23 advantage over their opponents. Notice who was missing though: Hassan Whiteside. And that is where the first amendement drama starts.
In 2017-18 Whiteside was 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 was the 32nd ranked center, trailing DeAndre Jordan and Aron Baynes, ranked 30th and 31st. Nikola Jokic (Nuggets) was ranked 1st. So, no, Whiteside is 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 was an issue for Whiteside last season. He had a legitimate gripe. But his problem was he confused how much he was getting paid with how many minutes he should be playing. He didn’t look at the rest of it. Like his numbers crashed from the previous year, six minutes less per game, for a reason. He demonstrated frustration but skirted around it, more or less, until he had enough. He went full out frontal about his vexation, implying his minutes jerked around may impact his interest in remaining a Heat. I guess he forgot that Pat Riley, the Heat Prez, is the baddest dude in the building, not Whiteside. Oh, and this too. He’s Whiteside’s boss. Riley traded Shaq. Whiteside needed to tread this water real carefully.
Which is why it is shocking he hasn’t been traded. Riley doesn’t do insurrection well. But there is the matter of the Whiteside contract.
2019-20: $27,093,018 (Player Option)
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 in 2016 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.
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 importantly, 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. Miami may want you gone but no one is going to pay for a malcontent without unloading bad contracts. The Heat have a massive cap number in 2018-19, north of $145 million, and all for a team not vying for a title.
If Miami is indeed stuck, ( no way is Whiteside going to decline a player option paying him $27 million in 2019-20) it is going to be the same ol’ thing. Less Whiteside on the court. More Whiteside whining. Neither the Heat or Whiteside with leverage.
Pat Riley who made this problem in the first place is trying to mend fences with Whiteside. Even if the come to Jesus moment is successful, it is still the summer. It’s easy to patch things up now. But what happens when Kelly Olynyk plays the last five minutes of the 4th because he can stretch the floor, guard 4 and 5’s and make mid range buckets and has zero attitude? Do you seriously think Whiteside will miraculously cheer Olynyk?
Whiteside is paid like a star and so it makes sense that he acts like one. But he isn’t putting up star numbers nor does he have star leadership intangibles. He comes from the Boogie Cousins school of feeling his emotions and reacting in a way that doesn’t help him. But Boogie Cousins is a star center and Whiteside isn’t. Perhaps, it will be easier to save the marriage because Whiteside isn’t extraordinary. He does a few thing well. That’s it.
Plan B for the Miami Heat. Rebuild the Whiteside bridge while working the phones.