Entering the offseason, Hassan Whiteside was already tagged as the Miami Heat’s top free-agent priority despite the fact that the reigning Southeast Divisions champions are facing the potential departures of as many as nine players including franchise cornerstone Dwyane Wade and veteran forward Luol Deng.
But thanks to a veteran-heavy market of free agent big men and Whiteside’s career-altering performance during this past season, Miami’s resident shot-blocker has drawn a significant amount of interest from a variety of other NBA teams, and while speaking to reporters during a recent appearance at a streetball tournament, he didn’t exactly commit to a future in South Beach.
“I really don’t think it’s about loyalty,” said Whiteside. “I think it’s just about [finding] the best situation for myself. I didn’t say [Miami] wasn’t the best situation, but we’re going to see what happens. It’s not like I’m really counting the Heat out or counting on another team. It’s just open.”
If the decision was left completely in the hands of team president Pat Riley, Whiteside would be wearing a Heat uniform for the next four years, and at Miami’s final press conference of the season, Riley had nothing but good things to say about the future millionaire.
“Your offense is only as good as what you do on the defensive end,” said Riley, “You want to explode out there? Then you better make some stops, you better rebound the ball. And that’s why Hassan is so important to us in a lot of ways. He’ll block shots, he’ll rebound the ball, he’ll change 10 other shots, he’ll scare the hell out of about four or five other people coming into the paint, and he’s got some intangibles that simply you just can’t find.”
Although selected in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings, Whiteside didn’t earn his way into league headlines until averaging a double-double with 11.3 points and 10 rebounds a night over 48 games for the Heat, and finishing with a franchise-best field goal percentage of .628 during the 2014-15 regular season.
Initially, Whiteside’s NBA career appeared to be a bust. After producing next to nothing during an 18-game stint spanning two seasons in Sacramento, Whiteside was waived by the Kings in July of 2012 and forced to join the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA’s Developmental League the following December — about as far from Miami as a player can go without leaving the country.
But things in South Dakota didn’t work out for Whiteside either, and after making another unsuccessful stop in the D-League with the Rio Grand Valley Vipers, Whiteside fell even further into the depths of minor-league mediocrity with a move to the international market in the spring of 2013 and stints in both the Lebanese Basketball League and the Chinese Basketball League.
Fortunately for the former Conference USA Freshman and Defensive Player Of The Year, the phone eventually rang in the fall of 2014 when the Memphis Grizzlies came calling to offer Whiteside an NBA opportunity that few earn twice. And while he failed to meet their expectations, and was even briefly sent back down to the D-League, Whiteside made enough of that opportunity to catch Riley’s eye.
In his first full campaign with the Heat this past season, Whiteside proved that he wasn’t just another promising, flash-in-the-pan center with averages of 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks in 74 games. Not surprisingly, Whiteside’s elusive combination of size, speed, and athleticism, along with his value as a first-class defender and rebounder, have reportedly drawn serious interest from the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, and L.A. Lakers.
With so many potential suitors, Whiteside is guaranteed to sign a life-changing contract this summer. Last season, the Heat only paid their premier low-post presence $990,000 in the final year of a two-year deal, and if he chooses to stay in South Beach, Whiteside could make as much as $22 million in a max contract worth $94.8 million over four years — not bad for a guy who was bounced out of the D-League less than three years ago.
But while Whiteside’s life is about to become much more comfortable, the future of any team he chooses to sign with other than Miami will also instantly become much brighter. And as Whiteside told the media, he’s enjoyed all of the added attention that comes with life as one of the league’s top free-agent targets.
“I find it flattering, because in my past, I was trying to call those teams, and now it’s the other way around,” said Whiteside. “It’s a flattering experience, and I’m thankful for this opportunity.”
Due to the blood clots that have thrown Chris Bosh’s NBA future into uncertainty, and the potential departures of Wade and several other key pieces of Miami’s playoff puzzle, re-signing Whiteside is far more important than it normally would be for Riley and the Heat.
Obviously, Whiteside still has some work to do, both in the locker room as a teammate and on his offensive game, in order to fulfill the highest expectations he’s ever faced. But despite Miami’s slight financial advantage over any other team looking to land the dominant center, don’t be surprised if Whiteside is doing that work in another NBA city.
[Photo By-Streeter Lecka/ Getty Images]