Hassan Whiteside took the NBA by surprise last season when he broke out for the Miami Heat and became one of the most dominant centres in the league.
After an unsuccessful stint in the NBA, some time overseas, and some workouts at the YMCA, Whiteside joined the Heat on a two-year, minimum-salary contract.
Out of nowhere, Whiteside exploded mid-season and finished the year averaging 11.8 points on 63% shooting, 10.0 rebounds, and nearly three blocks per game. The Heat, of course, picked up the second year on Whiteside’s contract, retaining him at just a $US981,000 price tag.
The big question coming into the season, considering Whiteside’s unimpressive NBA background prior to last season, was whether he could keep it up. The answer so far has been, resoundingly: yes.
Through four games, Whiteside is averaging 15.8 points on 73% shooting, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game. The Heat have a ridiculous 115 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) when he’s on the court, he leads the league with 1.6 points per play (ppp) in the pick-and-roll, and he’s creating offence for himself, with 1.07 ppp on 72% shooting in post-ups. And while the Heat’s defensive rating mysteriously drops when he’s on the court, he’s still doing his job, allowing just 42% shooting at the rim, per NBA.com/Stats.
While this is excellent for the Heat now, it’s going to put them in a tough spot this summer when Whiteside becomes a free agent. As Ira Winderman of The Sun-Sentinel explained last season, due to Whiteside’s prior NBA experience and his current short-term contract, the Heat don’t have the ability to offer Whiteside an extension and they don’t have his Bird Rights (the ability of a team to exceed the salary cap while re-signing one of their own players).
As Winderman notes, if the Heat don’t have the cap space to offer him a big contract, the best they can do is offer him a contract starting at the average NBA salary.
This is problematic for the Heat because they’re widely expected to enter the Kevin Durant sweepstakes this offseason when Durant becomes a free agent. If history is any indication, the Heat will have a shot at him, simply because of their roster, team culture, and location.
Currently, the Heat are expected to have cap space, but it may be a precious commodity. They have just under $US50 million committed to salary next year for six players and will have about $US38 million in cap space as the salary cap is expected to jump to $US88 million next year. Factor in a max. contract for Durant, which would likely start at over $US25 million for next season, a new contract for Wade, and the other seven roster spots they’d have to fill, and suddenly there’s little room for Whiteside.
Additionally, contracts for big men in the NBA prove that Whiteside is not going to be cheap. DeAndre Jordan, a similar comparison for Whiteside, got a max. contract last season, as did Greg Monroe. Other players like Tristan Thompson, Draymond Green, and Enes Kanter all got contracts worth over $US16 million per season.
There’s no guarantee the Heat will even be able to sign Durant, but most people figure they will be in the race. Even if they miss out on Durant, history shows Pat Riley will go after other big-name free agents. However, this roster is not built to withstand a player as impactful as Whiteside leaving for nothing.
If Whiteside keeps this up — and there’s reason to believe he will, since he’s been a steadily great player for the last five months now — the Heat are going to have some tough choices to make.
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