The Miami Heat were playing the Philadelphia 76ers — the team with Joel Embiid in the paint — in the first round of the playoffs last April, and in crunch time where was Hassan Whiteside? On the bench. Watching Kelly Olynyk and rookie Bam Adebayo get bulk of the minutes (Whiteside played just 10 minutes in the fifth and deciding game). After the series team president Pat Riley said Whiteside was not physically or mentally fully ready for the playoffs.
It summed up a season for Whiteside that saw him miss 28 games due to injury, a season where he saw his minutes drop as coach Erik Spoelstra trusted his small lineups more, a season where Whiteside complained loudly and publicly about his minutes falling, and one where he put up numbers — 14 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks a night — but he was inconsistent and not able to stay on the court.
Whiteside says he is healthy now and ready to bounce back. Speaking to reporters on a conference call from Africa where he is taking part in the NBA’s Basketball without Borders program, Whiteside said he is going to bounce back next season, quotes via Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.
“I feel great,” Whiteside said, speaking on a conference call to promote an exhibition game in Africa. “I feel a lot better than I did during the season. I’m completely healed. I feel like my regular self again.”
“I wasn’t healthy all last year,” Whiteside said. “I was in and out of the rotation with injuries. Just coming back healthy. Coming back from a bone bruise, it takes months to heal.”
The Heat looked into trading Whiteside this summer, but with two seasons and $52.5 million still left on his contract, there were no reasonable offers. The Heat are largely running back the team from last season and looking for internal improvement to take a step forward. Whiteside is part of that, and he said he met with Spoelstra and Riley about his role.
“We had a great talk,” Whiteside said. “I just think it’s trust on both sides. I think that’s the biggest thing … It was about a four-hour meeting. It was a lot about life. It was two hours basketball, two hours life. It was a good meeting.”
Miami is going to need a lot more out of Whiteside if they want to beat 44 wins and another first-round playoff exit next season. The big man out of Marshall University has to not only stay healthy and be consistent, but he also needs to help find where his game fits in a modern pace-and-space NBA. He can’t be an old-school center.
More than all of that, he needs to show maturity, stop blaming coaches and others when things don’t go his way. He needs to own his situation. The game is evolving on the court, Olynyk and Adebayo fit with that, and Whiteside will adapt or be pushed aside, and that’s all about him and nobody else.