Two years ago, the Miami Heat had a massive decision to make. Hassan Whiteside had emerged out of nowhere to become an impactful center, a 7-footer with the ability to both score and be a rim protector. He had also spent two years out of the NBA for a variety of reasons, and there were real questions about whether he had the maturity necessary to play on a big-money contract for a team hoping to contend.
But when Whiteside hit the open market in the summer of 2016 — when virtually the entire league had money to burn — multiple teams were willing to offer him a max contract. The Heat had to give him a four-year, $98 million deal or let him leave for nothing. Understandably, they chose to pay up.
Fast forward to Tuesday night. The Heat’s season ended in five games at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers, clearly the more talented team. And Miami’s max player was, at best, a non-factor. Truthfully, he was a net negative. To cap off the night, Whiteside decided to complain about his lack of minutes in the first-round series.
“Not being out there,” Whiteside told reporters after the game. “Not being out there. At least give me a chance to fight. At least give me a chance to fight. I can understand if I was playing 30 minutes and I played bad. At least give me a chance.”
“We played a style of play Coach [Erik Spoelstra] wanted,” he said. “He wanted to utilize more spacing I guess in the playoffs, so that’s why he did it.”
More accurately, Spoelstra played lineups that gave the Heat better chances to win. In his 77 minutes in the series — in which he averaged 5.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game while shooting 45 percent from the field and committing 2.4 turnovers per game — Miami was outscored by more than 15 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. In particular, the offense dried up, with the Heat scoring 90.8 points per 100 possessions when Whiteside played.
And for those thinking this was a postseason fluke, it was not. Miami had nine players with at least 1,000 minutes during the regular season: Josh Richardson, Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and Whiteside. Of those, only Whiteside had a negative net rating (negative 2.4, per NBA.com). All of those players had higher offensive ratings than the 101.4 points per 100 possessions the Heat scored when Whiteside was on the court.
Meanwhile, the Heat were two points per 100 possessions better when Whiteside sat on the bench — a 4.4-point swing between his rating when he’s on the court compared to when he’s off. That was easily the biggest swing of any of those nine players, and a damning statement about Whiteside’s performance.
That, combined with the 28-year-old’s pouting, puts Miami in a difficult spot heading into this offseason. Spoelstra clearly doesn’t trust Whiteside, who was fined earlier this season for a similar bout of complaining. That simply isn’t done in Miami.
So would the Heat be willing to trade Whiteside? At this point, the answer is yes. Given how much better they looked when Olynyk played, rookie Bam Adebayo’s potential and the chance to move Whiteside’s remaining $52 million over the next two seasons — no chance he’d pass on the $27 million player option he’s owed in 2019-20 — it’s easy to see why moving on from him would be appealing.
There’s just one problem: There are few, if any, landing spots that make much sense for him. Perhaps the Dallas Mavericks would be willing to swap Dwight Powell for Whiteside — assuming they strike out in free agency. Dallas was willing to pay him two summers ago, and he would give the Mavericks an interior presence they lack. Powell, meanwhile, makes about $20 million combined over the next two years, which would help extricate the Heat from worrying about the luxury tax. Given how much extra money Whiteside is making, though, perhaps Dallas would even want a sweetener to make such a deal.
Perhaps the New York Knicks would be willing to give up Joakim Noah and the Chicago Bulls’ second round pick for Whiteside. Noah is the definition of dead salary (even though he’s on the books for about $37 million the next two years). Miami potentially could buy Noah out to save a few million more if he had another destination in mind.
Perhaps, in another move involving dead money, the Phoenix Suns would send Brandon Knight (and his remaining two years and $29 million) and Tyson Chandler’s expiring contract to the Heat, giving the Heat another serviceable center to help Adebayo develop for one more season.
There is clearly a trend with those options: None involve turning Whiteside into an asset. Instead, the Heat would essentially be giving him away.
Some of this is because of the direction the league is heading. Given the number of big men struggling to get playing time — let alone get paid — it is difficult to find landing spots for someone like Whiteside. Because teams put a premium on shooting at all five spots, having someone like Whiteside camped out in the lane is a problem. That goes for the defensive end as well; Whiteside is never willing to come out on a shooter, something Philadelphia took advantage of time and again.
Compound that with the maturity issues, and it’s only going to add to the concerns other teams have about taking him on.
That may leave the Heat with no choice but to attempt to patch things up with Whiteside, hoping that injuries were the reason for his struggles. Even last season, though, he was only a slightly positive player in 77 games.
But at this point, hoping he can return to that — instead of giving him away — might be the best of Miami’s series of bad options.
The Heat bet on Whiteside, and his talent, when they chose to pay him two summers ago. Right now, it’s looking like a bet the Heat lost.