Center of Debate: What to Do with Hassan Whiteside

The Hassan Whiteside situation in Miami is very tricky to say the least. The Miami Heat are in an extremely tough position; one that most teams never have to go through. There are three obvious answers on what to do with Whiteside. Since this is his contract year, the Heat can either re-sign him over the summer, let him walk in free agency, or trade him before the year ends. This would be a simple process for most teams, but Whiteside is in a completely different scenario.

Contractual Complexities:

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Whiteside made an unconventional journey to the NBA. He was taken as the 33rd pick of the 2010 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings. He played in only 19 games over a two-year span in Sacramento, never making even the slightest impact for the team. He was cut during the 2011-2012 season, and decided to go play overseas in Lebanon and China for a few years. He then came back to the Developmental League, which is an affiliate of the NBA, where he absolutely dominated. He averaged 22 points, 15.7 rebounds, and 5.3 blocks in a little less than 29 minutes per game. The Heat decided to take a chance on him and signed him to a partially guaranteed contract. From there, his reputation grew rapidly. Even though he has only played 74 total games with the Heat, it is evident that the dominance he portrayed in the D-League has translated over nicely to the NBA.

This is where the complexity of Hassan Whiteside’s contract begins to come into play. Since he has only been on the Heat for less than two years and is set to become a free agent this summer, the Heat do not own his full Bird Rights. This is a very complicated issue, so I will only get into the basics. Owning a player’s Bird Rights are beneficial for the team and the player. The team is able to offer the player more money than any other team, giving them the best chance to resign him. Bird Rights also give the player more flexibility in contract negotiations. The only way for a team to get a player’s Bird Rights is for that player to be on the team for at least three years. The problem for both the Heat and Whiteside is that this is only his second season with the organization.

Another issue that negatively impacts Miami is that when a player is in their third year in the league, the player must become a restricted free agent. This gives the team a much better chance of re-signing the player because they can match any offer that another team proposes. Unfortunately for the Heat, Whiteside is now in his 4th season in the association, making him an unrestricted free agent. So, since the Heat don’t own his Bird Rights and he is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, they have no advantage in re-signing Whiteside. Since he is on pace to get a maximum contract, it seems like the Heat are just going to get outbid by a team with more salary space and a need for a high-impact center.

Exploring a Trade:

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Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

Another option the Heat have to consider is trading him, since he holds a ton of value. They could potentially get some very nice assets in return for a player like Whiteside. Here’s where a few more problems surface. His contract makes him somewhat untradeable. Both the salary and the player value must match up during a trade. Teams need to be swapping similar contracts so that neither of the teams exceeds their salary cap, and so that each team involved in the trade acquires a higher level of talent than they are surrendering.  Whiteside is making less than $1 million this year, so figuring out a way to match salaries and value with another team is going to be extremely difficult. Also, when trading for a big-time player like Whiteside in a contract year, the team is going to want some type of commitment that he is willing to sign long term. There is little chance that Whiteside would agree to this, considering this is going to be his first big payday. The new salary cap is expected to spike because of the new $24 billion television contract recently signed by the NBA. He is in line for a massive payday, so it’s almost certain that he wouldn’t limit his options by agreeing to re-sign with the team that traded for him. Obviously there’s always a chance that he gets traded, but I highly doubt it.

Pros and Cons of Hassan Whiteside:

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Hassan is a fantastic player who is one of the only true, traditional centers left in the NBA. He leads the league in blocks with 4.0 per game. If he maintains this pace, he will have the most blocks per game in a season since 1993-1994 when Dikembe Mutombo averaged 4.1 per game. He also ranks second in field-goal percentage, shooting an absurdly efficient 63%, and is sixth in rebounds at 10.7. In addition, he owns the 9th highest Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in the NBA, ahead of players such as Paul George, Andre Drummond, and Chris Paul. What blows my mind is that PER doesn’t even take defensive efficiency into account. Whiteside is not only proving to be a high-impact offensive player, but also anchors the league’s 5th ranked defense. Whiteside’s all-around offensive and defensive efficiency proves that he has the potential to become an All-Star if he continues to develop new aspects of his game.

Recently, Whiteside hasn’t been getting much time, if any, in the fourth quarter. This is not a surprise due to his lackluster free-throw percentage (51%), and his inability to spread the floor. There has been a recent “Hack-A-Shaq” epidemic throughout the NBA, where opposing teams foul the other team’s worst free-throw shooter. With the league average free-throw percentage sitting right around 76%, it is not smart to have a 51% foul shooter on the floor. Chris Bosh’s presence also makes Whiteside expendable. Whiteside and Bosh are just about the same size, and even though Bosh doesn’t rebound or block shots as well as Whiteside, he shoots a little under 83% from the foul line and shoots 38% from the three-point arc. Bosh’s abilities allow him to spread the floor while also defending the other team’s big man during crunch time.

The Skinny:

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It’s obvious that the Heat view Whiteside as a starter but not a finisher. This may ultimately push Whiteside away from Miami; he could believe that he deserves to be on the court during the end of the game. Whiteside’s value is at an all-time high and is no doubt in line for a max contract next year. It’s hard to tell what city Whiteside will be playing for next season. However, Heat fans can rest assured that if there’s anyone who can handle a situation and make it beneficial for his team, it’s Pat Riley.

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