Earlier this week, Hassan Whiteside broke down free agency like so:
“I really don’t think it’s about loyalty,” the shot-blocking center said […] “I think it’s just about [finding] the best situation for myself and that’s what I think it is.”
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It is also about money — huge, heaping, gleaming piles of cash — and early Friday morning, Whiteside found the situation and the scratch in the same place he put himself on the NBA map over the past 18 months. And, this being 2016, he revealed his findings on Snapchat:
— atreya verma (@atreya_verma) July 1, 2016
I can’t believe I didn’t see Will Smith factoring into these proceedings. I blame myself, really.
Whiteside followed up his audiovisual announcement with a brief text post on The Players’ Tribune:
I’ve played on eight teams since college — from Reno to Sioux Falls to Sichuan, China.
I am not ready for there to be a ninth.
I have decided to re-sign with Miami.
That’s right: Whiteside will return to the Miami Heat, landing a four-year maximum-salaried contract, according to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. That means the center will earn $22.2 million for the 2016-17 season and make $98.6 million over the life of the deal, according to salary cap specialist Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops.
That, my friends, is one hell of a raise for your boy Hassan Whiteside.
Whiteside last season: $980,000.
Whiteside new contract: $98,000,000.
100 times more. That is the definition of keeping it ????.
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) July 1, 2016
It looked briefly on Thursday night and early Friday morning like the Heat might lose Whiteside, with one suitor in particular separating itself from the pack in pursuit of the 27-year-old pivot:
Sources on @TheVertical. Dallas Mavericks emerging as a frontrunner for Miami free agent center Hassan Whiteside. Heat's lost ground on him.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 1, 2016
As convincing a case as owner Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson might have made for Whiteside to pull up stakes and join the Dallas Mavericks, though, there’s a reason you don’t want to let Pat Riley have one last opportunity at the negotiating table:
Miami swung back momentum with Hassan Whiteside in meeting tonight, league sources tell @TheVertical. Heat regained footing with Dallas.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 1, 2016
Riley has been saying for nearly two months that keeping Whiteside was Miami’s No. 1 priority, and he took care of that bit of business on the first night of free agency. As Kirk Henderson of Mavs Moneyball notes, “The move is particularly damaging for the Dallas Mavericks, who had placed nearly all their hopes on a pairing of Hassan Whiteside and [Memphis Grizzlies point guard] Mike Conley, Jr. Whiteside had the same offer of money from both Dallas and Miami and chose to stay with the Heat.”
That falls in line with previous reports that Whiteside wanted to re-sign with the Heat “if all things [were] equal financially,” but that doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow if you’re a Dallas backer. Once again, Mavs fans entered free agency hoping to land the sort of top-tier free-agent sensation who could help get franchise cornerstone Dirk Nowitzki back into deep postseason contention and perhaps give the legendary German another chance at an NBA championship; once again — in this particular case, at least — their hopes seem to have been dashed.
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) July 1, 2016
Congrats to the big fella @youngwhiteside Great to have you back bro!
— Chris Bosh (@chrisbosh) July 1, 2016
It’s up to Whiteside, of course, to prove that he can be that sort of top-tier talent, that kind of game-changing and franchise-shifting player, on a consistent basis.
After entering the NBA as a second-round pick out of Marshall in the 2010 NBA draft and failing to make an impact during his first two years in the league with the Sacramento Kings, Whiteside was forced to head overseas to continue pursuing his hoop dreams, spending the better part of two seasons plying his trade in China, Lebanon and, when stateside, in the D-League. About a year and a half ago, he landed in Miami and began to pair his estimable physical tools — a 7-foot, 265-pound frame, an enormous 7-foot-7-inch wingspan, the athleticism to go up to and grab just about any rebound, finish any lob pass and block any shot — with a motor and some menace.
Whiteside worked his way into rotation minutes just after Christmas 2014. Within a month, he’d hung 23 points and 16 rebounds on DeAndre Jordan in a 14-point win over the Los Angeles Clippers, and posted a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double to knock off the Chicago Bulls, after which he memorably described his motivation for beasting as a desire to “get my ‘[NBA] 2K’ rating up.” (The video game’s makers obliged.)
After making his presence felt by averaging 11.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in just 23.8 minutes per game in a little more than half a 2014-15 campaign in South Beach, Whiteside entered last season as the Heat’s starting center, slotting in alongside returning All-Star power forward Chris Bosh, steady veteran forward Luol Deng, franchise cornerstone Dwyane Wade and maxed-out point guard Goran Dragic to give the Heat one of the most talented starting fives in the league. But Miami struggled at times to find rhythm and success in the first half of the season, standing at 23-20 after a Jan. 20 loss to the Washington Wizards in which Whiteside suffered a strained left hip, and while Whiteside’s individual stats continued to look good, the Heat were actually allowing three more points per 100 possessions with Whiteside on the floor than when he sat, raising questions about how much of an impact his shot-blocking, the pursuit of which sometimes came at the expense of sound positional work that would keep opponents off the offensive glass or from getting dump-off passes for dunks, really had on the effectiveness of Miami’s defense.
With Bosh and Wade carrying the offensive load and veteran Amar’e Stoudemire sliding into his starting spot, the Heat went 4-2 while Whiteside healed up. When he returned, he came off the bench, allowing the veteran starting lineup to maintain the rhythm it had found and enabling him to provide a second-unit jolt, coming off the bench to overwhelm opposing reserves on the interior on both ends. Whiteside paired with rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson to boost Miami’s athleticism, length and defensive aggressiveness off the bench, helping fuel a post-All-Star break surge that took the Heat from the brink of despair after learning that blood clots would once again sideline Bosh for the remainder of the season to the thick of the playoff race, pushing for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.
Whiteside would finish the season as the league’s leader in blocked shots, No. 3 in rebounds and No. 13 among rotation big men in defensive field goal percentage allowed at the rim, coming in third place in Defensive Player of the Year voting and earning a spot on the All-Defensive Second Team. He often appeared dominant in the Heat’s first-round playoff victory over the Charlotte Hornets; his mid-series exit with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee helped submarine Miami’s hopes of toppling the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
There are reasons to be concerned about maxing out Whiteside as a foundational piece — his maturity has come into question, his tendency to chase blocks can compromise Miami’s defense, he’s not all that polished a back-to-the-basket player, he barely ever passes once he gets the ball, etc. But he’s a legitimate force protecting the rim who grabs and finishes damn near everything he gets his hands on; only Andre Drummond grabbed a higher share of available rebounds during his floor time than Whiteside, and among rotation bigs, only Jordan generated more points per possession finishing plays as the roll man in the pick-and-roll.
Riley’s betting that Whiteside’s sheer size, talent and continuing improvement will make him a dominant two-way player for Miami for the next four years. Considering the uncertainty surrounding Bosh’s future, the hoops that Miami will likely have to jump through to fit a big deal for Wade (who sure seems to want one), and how much that could damage their pursuit of top prize Kevin Durant (since just about any KD-to-Miami scenario that includes a maxed-out Whiteside also figures to require Wade to take a lower salary), Riley had better hope he’s right.
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