Kurt Helin

MIAMI, FL - MARCH 17: Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat reacts to a play during a game against the Charlotte Hornets at American Airlines Arena on March 17, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Heat interested in keeping Hassan Whiteside, but at $22 million a year?

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If you want to ask front offices around the league a divisive question right now, you’d be hard pressed to do better than:

How much will Hassan Whiteside get paid this summer?

Although, the majority are coming around to a max (likely around $23 million a year to start) or near max contract. Since the All-Star break he has averaged 18 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, shooting better than 60 percent from the floor. While the stats love him, there are flaws in the 27-year-old’s game — and questions about how focused he will be once he gets paid — but as one front office person told me about paying him the max, “it only takes one.”

Could the Heat be that one?

They want to keep him, but they want to see what the market will be, reports Barry Jackson at the Miami Herald.

But the amount the Heat is willing to pay won’t be decided until after the playoffs, and no contract discussions have even begun, because an extension with Whiteside isn’t permitted until the summer, in accordance with league rules prohibiting extensions for players on two-year contracts.

Not only are teammates much happier with Whiteside than ever before, but Pat Riley approached him recently “and told me how proud he was of me and to keep building on that,” Whiteside said. Heat executive Alonzo Mourning expressed similar sentiments….

“They haven’t talked about [free agency],” he said. “They want to see how far we get this season with this team. Playoffs will speak a lot.I hope [there’s interest]. I like the organization. Pat Riley is always going to do a great job of adding people that are going to help you win. It’s not hard to sell to come to Miami. You can always recruit great talent.”

That sounds great, but we all know at the end of the day money will win out. The Heat do not have his Bird rights; they cannot offer more than other teams. And make no mistake, whichever team offers Whiteside the most guaranteed money will almost certainly win. This is a business, don’t pretend it’s ever anything else.

That may be the Heat, although they need to ask how Whiteside and Chris Bosh can play together (Bosh has been out since the All-Star break).

Athletic rim protectors are increasingly valuable in a small-ball NBA, and Whiteside is hitting the market at the right time. He is about to be a very rich man. That may be in Miami, but if the Heat have a ceiling another team may clear it.

Blake Griffin medically cleared for basketball, begins four-game suspension Sunday

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin stands on the court as equipment manager Matias Testi, left, stands behind the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Los Angeles. Griffin broke his hand last month when he punched Testi in the face. The Clippers won 105-86. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Blake Griffin is back. Almost.

Griffin — who has been out since Christmas with first a quadriceps injury and then a broken hand that required surgery after punching a team employee — has been cleared for basketball activities, the team announced Sunday. That means he now starts serving a four-game suspension for that punch (he’s being docked five games’ pay).

That means Griffin will return next Sunday when the Clipper host the Washington Wizards. He can play in up to seven games before the playoffs begin, trying to get into a rhythm before the playoffs tip-off.

The Clippers have played well without Griffin, running a more spread pick-and-roll offense with much better ball movement. That ball movement needs to continue with Griffin in the lineup if the Clippers are going to be a threat in the second round or beyond.

Los Angeles is pretty locked into the four seed, which means (barring an unforeseen dramatic change of events) they will face a depleted Grizzlies team in the first round, followed by the juggernaut Golden State Warriors in the second. On paper the Clippers like their chances with the Warriors — when Golden State goes small the athleticism of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan allows L.A. to stay big, but so far this season the Warriors have had little trouble with the Clippers.

And if the Clippers get bounced in the second round again, Doc Rivers and the Clippers staff have some thinking to do about roster construction.

Report: Sixers almost traded Ish Smith at deadline, may draft Kris Dunn

Philadelphia 76ers' Ish Smith, top, goes up for a shot against Miami Heat's Amar'e Stoudemire during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, March 4, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Associated Press
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Ish Smith‘s return to Philadelphia has been a relative boon — they went from laughing stock to “at least they make you work for it,” and won a few more games (they are still 9-64 on the season). He knew how to run an NBA offense, be a threat to score (14 points per game average) and just make them better.

Ish Smith is not the long-term answer at the point, either.

Smith can be a solid backup point guard in the NBA, and the Sixers might want to have him in that role beyond this season (Smith is a free agent this summer), but Philadelphia needs a long-term answer at the point. Which is why they almost traded Smith at the deadline and could look hard at drafting a point guard come June, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Despite that, the Sixers (9-63 through Friday) offered Smith, shooting guard Nik Stauskas, and a protected first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for point guard Dennis Schroder at the Feb. 18 trade deadline, according to sources.

The uncertainty surrounding the re-signing of Smith this summer was a holdup for the Hawks, according to one source. Smith, whose stock has risen, is expected to have plenty of suitors when he becomes a free agent….

Sources have said the team is interested in drafting Providence point guard Kris Dunn in June, assuming the draft pick they get calls for that.

A few quick thoughts here.

I know Sixers fans love Ish Smith, as they should after the way he has balled for them, but Schroder would have been an upgrade. Schroder is younger (22), he’s got work to do on his shot but he’s still better than Smith, he’s a better defender, and he could be part of the long-term future in Philly. That would have been a smart move for the Sixers.

Dunn out of Providence is the top point guard in the draft, but if the Sixers have the No. 1 or 2 pick (as you would expect with the highest lottery odds thanks to being the worst record in the NBA) then they need to draft Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram (the two guys on the top of everyone’s draft board). Dunn is expected to go in the 4-7 range. If the lottery gods favor the Sixers and the Lakers’ pick falls to four so that the Sixers get it (the pick is top three protected), then maybe with that pick take him, but not their likely higher pick.

The Sixers would be wise to make up for their mistake of not re-signing Smith last summer and offer him a fair contract this summer. However, with the market awash with cash thanks to the spike in the salary cap (thanks new TV deal!) some other team could come in over the top with an offer the Sixers don’t want to match. It’s not going to be that simple to keep him in this market.

Boban Marjanovic dunks and three Thunder defenders are not going to stop him

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You know what this site needs? More Boban.

Here you go. The Spurs Boban Marjanovic got and offensive board early in Saturday’s game against the Thunder, and with three OKC defenders around him he treated them like King Kong swatting at planes, went up and threw it down with authority anyway.

It didn’t matter. While the Spurs — resting just about everyone you can name on that team — made a second quarter run, the night belonged to the Thunder who won 111-92. Maybe we’ll see more of this when these teams meet in the second round of the playoffs.

Bulls’ Mike Dunleavy after loss to Magic: “I just don’t think we’re good enough”

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The Chicago Bulls are in the middle of a fight to make the playoffs, and they just lost three games in a row — two to the Knicks and one to the Magic. Teams that you wouldn’t exactly describe as powerhouses. The losses left Chicago two games back of Detroit and Indiana — the teams tied for the seven and eight seeds — with just 10 games left to play.

What is going wrong in Chicago?

Mike Dunleavy had an answer that was honest.

Nobody seems to have an answer. Look at these quotes from the Bulls, via Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com.

“It’s a lot. It’s not one thing here or there,” said forward Mike Dunleavy. “It’s not the offense or defense, it’s both. It’s a lot of stuff. To say one thing we’re not doing right and it’ll solve everything, that’s just not the case. It’s a bunch of stuff we’re struggling with. Effort, execution, discipline, continuity, you can go through the whole thing.”

“Just a lack of competitiveness; All we talked about is getting off to a good start tonight, giving ourselves a chance,” Fred Hoiberg said. “We win games, more often than not, when we win the first quarter. They came out and scored 36 on us in the first 12 minutes.”

“Is the answer in the room? Hell, we all we got, it better be in this room,” Jimmy Butler said. “And it better carry from this locker room to on the court. That’s the only way to get this fixed, nobody’s gonna play basketball for us.”

The prediction odds at fivethirtyeight.com give the Bulls and eight percent chance of making the playoffs now. The theory goes that they still have a softer schedule the rest of the way than the Pistons, so they can climb back in it.

But if they can’t beat the Knicks and Magic, that’s moot.

Next Saturday the Bulls host the Pistons, that game could be their last stand. Or their Waterloo.