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.