If Hassan Whiteside was as good as Hassan Whiteside thinks he is, the Miami Heat wouldn’t have this problem.
In the fourth quarter and overtime against Brooklyn Saturday night — a Miami loss that kept it from clinching a playoff spot — Whiteside was watching from the bench. Which is part of a pattern, coach Eric Spoelstra tends to match opponents small lineups in the fourth (often using Kelly Olynyk and his floor-spacing shooting on the court or rookie Bam Adebayo, although neither of them was on the court Saturday late).
Saturday, the benching led to an expletive-filled postgame rant from Whiteside, as reported by Ira Winderman at the Sun-Sentinel.
“Man, it’s annoying,” said Whiteside, who was pulled for good with 3:55 to play in the third quarter. “Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength.
“It’s bull—. It’s really bull—, man,” Whiteside said. “There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. S—. That’s bull—.”
This led to questions about Whiteside’s future with the team after this season.
Asked if it has him questioning his future with the team, he said. “I don’t know, maybe.”
Some of this is venting after a loss. If Dwyane Wade had gotten the call his wife complained about on Twitter at the end of regulation and Miami got the win, Spoelstra looks smart matching. However, Brooklyn won, and Whiteside watched and felt he could have helped. That’s the kind of competitive spirit Heat fans should want out of their center.
Also, maybe the Heat have not made it clear enough to Whiteside why such decisions are made. Spoelstra has some Popovich in the way he coaches in that he will bench anyone if he thinks it will help, trusting his gut (and eyes, and the numbers) in the flow of the game. Whiteside’s rant was that of a guy not understanding why certain decisions are made, and his frustration is understandable.
Whether Whiteside being on the court would have helped like he thought is another question — for a paint-protecting big man he doesn’t strike great fear into opponents, the Nets went hard at him and the rim all game. Whiteside was in just his second game back after missing nine with a hip flexor and after the game Spoelstra said Whiteside’s conditioning after the layoff was part of the decision. However, he then said that their small lineup “got to our size a little bit” so he matched it. Spoelstra made a philosophical decision, one that left Whiteside and other bigs on the bench.
Whiteside has battled injuries this season — he has played in only 49 games — and is playing seven fewer minutes a game when he does suit up than he did a season ago. Overall, Whiteside’s per-minute numbers and efficiency are up this season — he is the player he’s been for a couple of seasons — but with a deeper bench and options Spoelstra is choosing to go a different direction at times.
As for the future, Whiteside is under contract for $25.4 million for next season, then has an early termination option (a player option, in practice) for $27 million the season after that, the final seasons on a four-year, $98 million contract from two summers ago. In a summer where a lot of teams will be looking to shed salary, it will not be easy to move Whiteside making that much, even though he brings value to wherever he would land. He’s a quality center, just not one of the elite handful that truly changes games in the NBA.