Hassan Whiteside and the max-contract question

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Heat center Hassan Whiteside is on pace to become the first player in 20 years to average four blocks per game, but one he didn’t get stuck with him.

In a game against the Knicks earlier this season, Whiteside double-teamed Carmelo Anthony as the New York forward turned his back from the basket. When Melo pivoted, he looked shocked to see Whiteside and turned the ball over:

“Some guys will throw it into the crowd before they let me block it,” Whiteside said.

Does Whiteside appreciate that intimidation factor?

“I appreciate it all,” Whiteside said.

He has reason to be thankful.

Whiteside overcame a two-year absence from the NBA, getting shunned everywhere but Lebanon, before signing with Miami. Now, he’s a star, averaging 12.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game at just age 26. He’s 7-foot with a 7-foot-7 wingspan and hops, a physical profile that indicates promise to become even better.

He’ll become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he has a chance to attain what – sentimentality aside – might actually be the highest honor in the sport:

A max contract.

Whiteside’s max projects to be about $90 million over four years, a big outlay even as the salary cap skyrockets.

Paying Whiteside that much is particularly tricky for the Heat.

Because they don’t have his full Bird Rights, they can neither exceed the cap to give him anything realistic nor offer a fifth year. They have a small advantage in that they can offer 7.5% raises rather than the 4.5% of other teams – which projects to put their max offer at $93,215,263 over four years, up from the $89,444,758 he could get elsewhere.

In addition to figuring out Whiteside, Miami also needs to re-sign Dwyane Wade.

The Heat have $48,008,675 committed next season – to Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Josh McRoberts and Justise Winslow. If they trim their roster to those four, giving Whiteside and Wade max salaries would put them right near the cap – to the point knowing the exact salary cap, not a projection, will be necessary to determine whether they can max out both.

Maybe Wade, at age 34, would accept a little less than a max starting salary in exchange for a longer contract. Maybe Miami could move McRoberts. Or maybe the cap will land high enough for this to work with minimal haggling.

But that still leaves one very important question:

Is Whiteside worth the max?

“In this league, in this day and age, if you can walk and chew gum,” Bosh said, “if you’re 7 feet and can rebound and set screens, you can make a nice living.”

Whiteside can do more than that, though, right?

“Yeah, he can,” Bosh said. “But we need him to set screens and be big. We don’t need him to do much else.”

This is Whiteside’s dilemma. Miami has done him wonders, giving him a chance to repair his image and working to develop his game. But the Heat also sometimes hold him back when he most needs to show his talent.

On the simplest level, Whiteside plays only 28.2 minutes per game, 108th in the league. He often sits in the fourth quarter. Forgetting Whiteside’s elite blocking for a moment, only one other player in NBA history has posted Whiteside’s per-game scoring and rebounding marks in such little playing time (Swen Nater, who averaged 13.0 points and 12.0 rebounds in 27.2 minutes per game for the 1976-77 Bucks).

If Whiteside is so great, why doesn’t Miami play him more? Defense.

Despite all the acclaim Whiteside receives for anchoring the Heat’s top-five defense, they allow more points per 100 possessions with him on the court (102.5) than off (92.3).

He too often chases blocks at the expense of maintaining sound position, a balance Whiteside admittedly struggles to find.

“That’s probably the toughest thing,” Whiteside said. “When you block shots, you might lose out on a couple more rebounds, but it’s not about, for me, it’s not about averaging 15-plus rebounds or averaging a bunch of rebounds. I’m really a defensive-minded guy. I’d rather go send it the other way.”

The problem with that philosophy: A defensive possession doesn’t end after a missed shot – even a blocked one – unless the team secures a defensive rebound. Miami allows 14.3 second-chance points per 48 minutes with Whiteside on the court, which would rank 28th league-wide. That’s far too many for a rebounder of Whiteside’s ability.

And it’s not just rebounding. Whiteside’s block-chasing ways sometimes leave him out of position to defend shots. He’s a quality rim protector, though not as good as his historic block numbers suggest. Opposing players shoot 45.8% at the rim when Whiteside is defending it – a very good, but not quite elite, mark. Overall, opponents shoot better, draw more fouls and turn the ball over less against the Heat with Whiteside on the court than off.

The differences can’t simply be pinned on Whiteside. His floormates factor.

But even that raises questions about Whiteside’s value.

Miami has defended much better when going small this season. How much is a big man like Whiteside still worth in a league getting smaller?

There are at least signs Whiteside can adjust.

He has improved defending the perimeter. He’s decently light on his feet, capable of applying at least a little pressure on pick-and-roll ball-handlers. But he must do it more consistently.

On the other end, Whiteside is a dominant finisher, which can be a dangerous complement to a team otherwise full of spacers. Whiteside has even shown a little ability to score away from the rim, shooting 42.6% from five feet and out in his Heat tenure. But Miami hasn’t exactly asked him to show his outside-shooting touch – or shoot by design at all.

Some of his offensive shortcomings can’t be blamed on the team, though. Whiteside has dished just 12 assists in his entire career. Despite his charming excuse – “I can’t get a lot of assists because a lot of the times I’m the one that’s dunking” – that’s preposterously low. On one hand, if Whiteside isn’t a skilled passer, it’s better to force a shot than commit a turnover. But he can be too selfish at times – a red flag for teams looking for one.

Any attitude issue with Whiteside will be put under the microscope. That’s the result of a failed stint with the Kings, when his lack of maturity prevented him from maximizing his talent after they drafted him in 2010.

“That was a long time ago,” Whiteside said. “If they want to think about things that happened four, five years ago, that’s up to them.

“I don’t think it’s something that should follow me, but I really don’t know right now. That was years ago. Things didn’t work out in Sacramento. I worked my way to get back here. I could’ve easily gave up and went back home and just chilled. But I put in the work, and I feel like I’m a hard worker or I wouldn’t be here.”

If it sounds like I’m arguing from both sides of my mouth on maxing out Whiteside, you’re getting the picture. Whiteside is no lock to be worth a max contract. But there will be more teams with big money to spend than free agents to spend it on. I’d rather take a chance on Whiteside and give my team a chance of major success than settling for a value play on someone who has established himself at a lesser level.

That bet paying off is predicated on Whiteside – who has been mentioned as an All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year candidate – remaining hungry.

“I’m pretty easily motivated,” Whiteside said. “Everybody know my story, and I’ve had so many ups and downs in my life, I think that really motivates. I’ve still got a chip on my shoulder of just all the years of being looked over and still being doubted. You carry that with you for a long time.”

What if he gets a max contract? All his hard work to get to this point will have been rewarded. Will he have to find new sources of motivation?

“No. No. No. No,” Whiteside said. “I don’t see it.”

But what does the league see in Whiteside?

Understandably, some teams will hesitate to make a big offer to someone who has started just 58 games. But Whiteside has played at an elite level in that short span.

His rags-to-riches tale hasn’t includes relative riches. He’s earned more than the minimum only his rookie season, and he earned less that year than any of his other NBA seasons.

He has a few more months – likely including his first playoff appearance – to show just how much that should change.

Malone’s message clear to Nuggets, ‘I don’t think we played well in Game 1’


DENVER — Game 1 was a coach’s dream in some ways for Michael Malone and the Nuggets staff.

They got three-quarters of dominating play — the Nuggets were up by 21 entering the fourth quarter — and they got the win. But they also have one quarter of struggling, sloppy play that gives Malone a valid reason to call guys out and have a candid film session.

“I don’t think we played well in Game 1,” Michael Malone said, despite his team picking up an 11-point win. “I watched that tape, and they were 5-of-16 on wide-open threes. As I told our players this morning, the fact that they got 16 wide-open threes is problematic, and if you think that Max Strus is going to go 0-for-9 again or Duncan Robinson is going to go 1-for-5 again, you’re wrong. The fourth quarter, we gave up 30 points, 60% from the field, 50% from three, 6-of-12 from the three-point line.”

Malone added he thought the Nuggets offense struggled in the fourth quarter because they didn’t get stops so they were constantly going up against the Heat’s set defense.

“That fourth quarter, you know, we came out in the flat,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We had a great looks at the basket, we just didn’t knock them down. But we want to get into our offense a little bit earlier than like :14 seconds on the clock and just play normal basketball, our basketball.”

It was all part of a theme Malone wanted to drive home: They are still three wins from a title and those will not be easy to get.

“I told our players today, don’t read the paper,” Malone said (do any of those 20-somethings get an old-school paper?) “Don’t listen to the folks on the radio and TV saying that this series is over and that we’ve done something, because we haven’t done a damn thing.”

There were positives for the Nuggets to take away from Game 1, particularly on the defensive end.

“I think when you see the last game, us against Miami, in the first three quarters, they score 65, 68 points [Ed. note: it was 63]. I think that’s really amazing,” Nikola Jokić said. “And then you can see the fourth quarter, they scored 30-something. When we are collectively really good, then I’m really good [defensively], too. But when we are collectively not good, I’m not really good.”

Jimmy Butler had praise for Jokic’s defense.

“He moves his feet well. He’s constantly making guys make decisions whenever they get into the paint. Then his outlet passes from a defensive rebound are very, very elite; that, he’s been doing his entire career,” Butler said. “As much as everybody looks at what he does on the offensive side of the ball, he’s a hell of a defender, as well.”

“I think overall, I think Nikola’s defense has been a real positive,” Malone said. “I think you have to get past the eye test with Nikola because I think most people just think of great defensive players as a guy who is blocking a shot or just making a great athletic play. Nikola does it differently. He has a tremendous IQ. He’s got great anticipation. He’s got unbelievable hands for deflections, blocks. He’s got unbelievable feet for deflections.”

In the postseason, the Nuggets have held their own in the non-Jokić minutes and that continued in Game 1 — the Nuggets were only -3 in the non-Jokić minutes in that game (-1 in the first half and -2 in the fourth quarter).

“Defense,” Aaron Gordon said of the focus in non-Jokić minutes. “So, when he’s sitting on the floor we need to lock in on defense. That’s probably the most important, crucial aspect of the non-Nikola Jokic minutes because that’s how we get our offense, as well.”

In its last couple of series, the other team had to be aggressive with adjustments because the Nuggets were forcing them to. The Finals may prove a little different, we could see some defensive tweaks early from the Nuggets.

Denver’s offense is going to get points, if its defense can be as good as Game 1, Malone is going to have to look hard to find things before the Game 3 film sessions.

Heat look for ways to make Nuggets uncomfortable in Game 2


DENVER — One thing was clear from Game 1 of the NBA Finals: The Nuggets are not going to assist in their own demise the way the Celtics and Bucks did against the Heat. When Miami made their fourth-quarter run Thursday, the Nuggets showed poise, got the ball to Nikola Jokić, and got the comfortable home win.

If Miami is going to win Game 2 and, eventually, this Finals series, they have to make Denver a lot more uncomfortable.

The Heat need to be the team applying pressure.

“I think I’ve got to be more aggressive putting pressure on the rim,” Jimmy Butler said, echoing his comments after Game 1 when he didn’t get to the free throw line once. “I think that makes everybody’s job a lot easier. They definitely follow suit whenever I’m aggressive on both sides of the ball. So I have to be the one to come out and kick that off the right way, which I will, and we’ll see where we end up.”

Jokić only had to defend two shots at the rim in Game 1. The Heat want that number to go up exponentially in Game 2. To a man Heat players discussed playing with more “intention” or “force” on Sunday.

It would also help if they hit their jumpers.

The Heat as a team were 5-of-16 on open 3-pointers (using the Second Spectrum tracking data). Max Strus, Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin combined to shoot 2-of-23 from 3 in Game 1.

“We did see some things that we liked and we got some great looks, myself included,” Strus said. “We’ve got to knock those down.”

“In terms of the shooters, that’s pretty simple. Let it fly. Ignite. Once they see two go down, it could be three, it could turn into six just like that,” Erik Spoelstra said, snapping his fingers, when asked what he told his shooters heading into Game 2. “As long as we are getting those clean looks, that’s what matters.”

One of those shooters, Martin, was not at practice due to an illness on Saturday, but he likely plays on Sunday.

Another shooter the Heat could use is Tyler Herro, but his status remains “unchanged,” Spoelstra said. Herro has been out since fracturing his hand in the first round of the playoffs, although he is nearing a return. Spoelstra would not rule out Herro for Game 2, but he wasn’t making it sound likely.

The hard part of making the Heat uncomfortable is slowing Jokić, and just as important is not letting the Jokić and Jamal Murray pick-and-roll get flowing. Heat players across the board talked about needing to tighten up on the defensive end as they adjust the off-ball movement and the more untraditional style of play the Nuggets use.

“I think it’s an opportunity to learn,” Robinson said of going against the Nuggets offense in Game 1. “You watch the film, go to school on it, try to take away some things that you did well, and then certainly learn from some things that you can do better. I think in that sense there are some encouraging aspects of it.”

One thing the Heat have done better than their opponents in every round is adjust — Miami got better faster than the teams they beat along the way to the Finals. That won’t be easy against a Nuggets team with a strong coach and a high-IQ MVP in Jokić.

Expect a much more aggressive Heat team in Game 2. Whether that is enough to make the Nuggets uncomfortable remains to be seen.

Coach, front office moves update: Pistons make Williams hiring official, Borrego or Stotts to Bucks bench?


There are far from settled across the NBA in both the coaching and front office circles, with news still leaking out daily. Here’s an update on things which have come to light in recent days.

• The Detroit Pistons made the hiring of Monty Williams official.

“A week ago, I was not sure what the future would hold,” Williams said in a statement, referencing reports he had planned to take a year away from coaching. “But, after talking with Tom [Gores, team principal owner] and Troy [Weaver, Pistons GM], I was excited hearing their vision for the Pistons going forward. They had a thoughtful plan and I am so appreciative of the emphasis they placed on the personal side of this business. They showed tremendous consideration for me and my family throughout this process.

“They also showed a commitment to success and doing things the right way,” he said. “As we discussed the team and expressed our collective goals, I realized that this would be a great opportunity for me to help a talented young team and build a strong culture here in Detroit. This is obviously a special place with a deep basketball history, and my family and I are looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of this city and organization.”

Williams has a six-year, $78.5 million contract with the team and that reportedly could grow to more than eight years, $100 million if incentives are hit. He was brought in to help build a culture of defense and discipline for a franchise with some nice young players but many questions.

• Kevin Ollie, the former NBA player and UConn coach who was in the mix for the Pistons’ job before Williams was hired, will be on the bench in Brooklyn next season.

• While Adrian Griffin has not officially signed his contract as the new Bucks head coach, he is sitting in on meetings running up to the draft and has essentially started the job, reports Eric Nehm and Shams Charania at The Athletic.

More interestingly, The Athletic reports the Bucks plan to put an experienced, veteran head coach next to the rookie Griffin, and are speaking to former Hornets head coach James Borrego and former Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. Bringing in an experienced staff to put around Griffin is the smart move, with what we saw this season with Joe Mazzulla in Boston as an example of why this is the smart path.

• The Wizards have hired former Hawks head of basketball operations Travis Schlenk to be the right-hand man next to new Wizards president Michael Winger. This is a quality hire. Schlenk was rumored to have questioned Atlanta’s trade for Dejounte Murray to put next to Trae Young — a move ownership wanted — and by mid-season he was pushed out the door. Having Winger and Schlenk in the Washington front office is a lot of brain power, the question remains will they be given true freedom by owner Ted Leonsis to make moves for the long term and not prioritize just making the playoffs? The Wizards have a big offseason coming up with questions about new contracts/extensions for Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis.

• Aaron Nelson, the training staff guru hired by the Pelicans away from the Suns in 2019 to help Zion Williamson and others, appears to be out of the mix in a restructured staff, reports Christian Clark at the Times-Picayune. Zion did not have a great relationship with Nelson, but the question is was Nelson the scapegoat for players issues beyond his control? From Clark’s article:

Williamson’s relationship with Nelson became strained during his rookie season. At different points, Williamson refused to work with him…

Brandon Ingram sat out 29 consecutive games with an injury the team described as a left toe contusion. Ingram kicked the back of a Memphis Grizzlies player’s foot in November. Two days after the injury, Pelicans coach Willie Green said Ingram was “day to day.” Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Ingram did not play again until Jan. 25 — exactly two months after hurting his toe…

Ingram has sometimes seemed unwilling to play through minor discomfort, to the point where some of his teammates have become frustrated with him over the past two years. The Pelicans thought they had solved their player care and performance problem by hiring Nelson. Four years later, Nelson’s time in charge of the department is over.

When the Pelicans have all their stars on the court, this is at the very least, a playoff team in the West and potentially a dangerous one. I’m not going to speculate on the internal dynamics of the Pelicans front office and training team, but after years of injury issues it’s fair to ask if this is a matter of the training staff, or is this on the players themselves?

Knicks’ Julius Randle undergoes ankle surgery, should return for training camp

2023 NBA Playoffs - 	New York Knicks v Miami Heat
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Knicks’ Julius Randle sprained his ankle with two weeks to go in the regular season. He returned from that in time to face the Cleveland Cavaliers and their massive front line in the playoffs, but he struggled in that series — 14.4 points a game on 33.8% shooting — and injured his ankle again in Game 5. He did make it back for the Heat series after missing Game 1 but was never fully himself.

Now, as he hinted at during the playoffs, Randle has undergone offseason arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Randle is expected to be ready for the start of training camp in the fall.

Randle had an All-NBA season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game, and was part of the reason, along with Jalen Brunson, the Knicks were the No. 5 seed in the East last season.

Randle’s name has come up in trade rumors, mostly with him going out if the Knicks get in the mix for a superstar who becomes available this offseason. If someone such as Karl-Anthony Towns or Bradley Beal hits the market and New York wants to be in play, sending out Randle — set to make $25.6 million this season, with two more seasons on the books after that — is the way to match salaries.

Randle should be healthy and ready for training camp for whatever team he is on come September.