The Summer of Whiteside

Miami's Starting Center Speaks on Free Agency and Summer Work
Hassan Whiteside
Jesse D. Garrabrant
by Couper Moorhead
HEAT.com

Hassan Whiteside had a choice. He didn’t have to be here, outside Miami’s makeshift locker room, yards from Miami’s bench, at halftime of Miami’s second-to-last Summer League game speaking to Miami media as Miami’s starting center.

It didn’t have to be Miami. It could have been some other city with some other team. But Whiteside made his choice, and he explains it very simply.

“I felt more comfortable here. I didn’t want to change teams,” Whiteside said.

What was it the HEAT showed him in the past year and a half that made him more comfortable?

“Just that they believed in me.”

Whiteside’s long, winding journey before ending up with the HEAT is well documented and there’s no need to repeat it, but he spent years trying to find a home in the basketball world. Now that he’s found it, found some stability, everything can be about what happens on the court. And he knows that when a team believes in you, that belief carries the weight of responsibility.

“I know there’s a lot more work to be done. There’s expectations for things,” he said.

Part of that expectation, as it is with any young player entering or in the midst of his prime, is to improve. So what’s he focused on this offseason?

“Being able to dribble a lot more, [and] jumpers. Still post work,” Whiteside said. “I want to get the rebound and push it in transition. I’m not trying to say I’m going to be Goran Dragić or anything, but I just feel like a couple dribbles up the court could help speed up our offense.”

Things might not sync up at first when you read that paragraph, with a seven-footer talking about putting the ball on the floor more, but there’s value in those goals. There’s room for improvement both on the perimeter and in the post, but a team can only run as fast as the rebounding player can get the ball moving up court. Rather than working the glass and standing still waiting for Dragić to come back to the ball, if Whiteside can get momentum going in the right direction with a dribble or two – without turning the ball over – Miami should be able to reach it’s desired style all the better.

A style desired, we can surmise, based on how the past five months have gone. It was made abundantly clear that Erik Spoelstra wanted to push the pace in the second half of the season, and with the team’s acquisitions last week of Wayne Ellington, Derrick Williams, James Johnson, Luke Babbitt and Willie Reed, the team filled out the roster with players who can run with Dragić or help push the ball in transition themselves.

If he can do it, there’s no reason for Whiteside not to fit that mold as well. It will be just another part of a very important working relationship between him and his point guard, with whom Whiteside established a goal of ‘one lob per game’ in the latter months of the season.

“It was great,” Whiteside said. “Each game me and Goran got better. He’s easy to talk to. He’s a really good point guard. As the season went on, me and Goran understood each other better.

“Next year is going to be even bigger. More of me and Goran communicating on that basketball level and getting to know each other better.”

It won’t happen overnight, but they’ll need to know each other as well as possible. Even teams that run have to be able to score in the halfcourt and the Dragić-Whiteside pick-and-roll will presumably be a fixture of Spoelstra’s offense this year given how crucial it became after the All-Star Break.

The time for all that will come. For now, Whiteside can enjoy sitting on the bench with Summer League players not because he’s trying to find a home, but because he’s already found one.

Or, more appropriately, he chose it.

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