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Hassan Whiteside on sitting vs. small lineups: “It’s bull—-. It’s really bull—-, man”

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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.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.

Rumor: If Warriors land No. 1 pick they would take Anthony Edwards

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The only consensus about the 2020 NBA Draft is that it’s not a very good class.

Not only is there no Zion Williamson or Ja Morant level player at the top of the board, but there’s also no consensus on who is the best player in the class. James Wiseman has some backers, while others lean LaMelo Ball because he has a high ceiling if his shot and decision making dramatically improve.

If the Warriors get the top pick — they will have a 14 percent shot at it in the draft lottery — they would take Anthony Edwards, reports Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to multiple league sources The Chronicle contacted in the past few days, the Warriors — contrary to what mock drafts might suggest — aren’t believed to be high on two of the three players being mentioned as possibilities at the No. 1 pick: former Memphis center James Wiseman and point guard LaMelo Ball, who last played for the Illawarra Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League. As one source put it, “I think they’d only take one of those two if they were trading down in the draft and taking them for another team…

If the Warriors land the No. 1 pick in the draft, they’ll be open to trading it. But if Golden State doesn’t receive a worthy offer, it would likely take Edwards with the top selection, according to a league source.

What the Warriors would do with the top pick was a topic on this week’s ProBasketballTalk Podcast. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster suggested Golden State’s best move is to trade down a few spots then take players who can help more now such as Isaac Okoro or Obi Toppin. However, if they kept the top pick because offers were not good enough, he suggested Edwards was the best call.

Over at ESPN, draft guru Mike Schmitz said if he were the Warriors he would take LaMelo Ball. The logic there is he has the highest ceiling of any player in this draft if his shot comes around and his decision making improves (he shot 37.5 percent overall and 25 percent from three in Australia this season, choosing to jack up a lot of questionable shots). The Warriors would not put up with off-the-court antics from Ball — that’s a strong locker room with Draymond Green and Stephen Curry — but whether Ball can reach his ceiling is an open question.

It’s sort of the same thing with Wiseman. He’s the best positional fit for the Warriors, who would love a rim-running and defensive big, but he seems to be years away from reaching that potential if he does at all (there are questions about his passion for improving and if he would accept the rim-runner role). The Warriors are win now, they aren’t waiting around for a non-elite player to develop (there are no projected elite players in this class).

Whether the Warriors will be faced with this decision — or what they will do with the pick they do get — is all on hold. The date for the NBA Draft Lottery and the draft itself remains up in the air. The draft process itself this season is filled with challenges for every team.

Bulls’ Zach LaVine on again missing playoffs: ‘It wears on you’

Bulls guard Zach LaVine
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The Bulls are having their best season since Zach LaVine arrived in Chicago.

They’re 22-43.

LaVine didn’t experience much more success with the Timberwolves, either. He missed the playoffs all three seasons in Minnesota and will almost certainly miss the postseason for the third straight season with the Bulls.

Lavine, via Sam Smith of Bulls.com:

“To be blunt, I’m upset,” LaVine admitted. “We had high expectations coming into the season and it didn’t go our way anyway we could have thought of. We played through some adversity, but we didn’t go out there and do what we were supposed to do as a team.

“I’ve been in the NBA six years now and it just gets frustrating,” LaVine said. “I want to be in the playoffs. We really (believed). I haven’t played in a playoff game and it wears on you. That’s what you work so hard for and continue to play for.”

LaVine has averaged 17.7 points per game. That’s incredibly high for someone who has gone so long without making the playoffs.

Here’s everyone to average 15 points per game through their first six seasons without playing a playoff game in that span:

Bulls guard Zach LaVine

T.J. Warren has a career scoring average of 15.2 points per game. But the sixth-year forward is on track to make the playoffs this season with the Pacers. So, he wasn’t included.

Furthering LaVine’s woe, he hasn’t even made an All-Star game. With the exception of Jim Jackson, everyone else above him on that chart – Geoff Petrie, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, DeMarcus Cousins, Elton Brand, Kevin Love and Bob Rule – at least made an All-Star team during their first six seasons. LaVine hasn’t even gotten that recognition.

The big question: How will LaVine channel his frustration?

Will he be even more driven to win? Or will he become a malcontent? Will he use his growing professional experience to lead? Or will he focus on individual achievements?

LaVine is a notoriously poor defender, often unfocused on that end. He’s a very good scorer, but he hasn’t shown he can propel a quality team offense with optimal balance of ball dominance and distribution.

The offensive problems aren’t all LaVine’s fault. His teammates are underwhelming. His coach is deficient. But Lavine could be better offensively, and he could be WAY better defensively.

Ideally, these hardships will push LaVine to address his own flaws and do even more to lift the Bulls to the playoffs. We’ve seen these types of situations go the other way, though.

LaVine clearly isn’t good enough to singlehandedly carry a team into the postseason. He might never reach that high level. If he doesn’t, he’ll need more help from the Bulls.

But he at least controls how he handles this predicament.