FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
As Hassan Whiteside prepares for his first-ever NBA playoff game, he’s likely in line for a max contract from some team this summer regardless of how he plays this postseason, according to an NBA executive. But what these playoffs can help determine is the Heat’s comfort level in extending him a max offer or something very close to it.
If Miami pushes deep into postseason, with Whiteside flourishing, Pat Riley can easily justify committing well over $30 million of his potential $40 million in cap space on Whiteside and Dwyane Wade, with Whiteside in line for a first-year salary in the $22 million range.
But if the Heat flops and Whiteside doesn’t play like an elite center, then everything stands to be re-evaluated, though Wade’s return is considered very likely.
Whiteside, in a private moment this week, said he believes he needs to leave a strong lasting impression on the Heat in the coming weeks.
“It's very meaningful,” he said of the postseason’s impact on how the Heat views him. “Every day is a day I can try to leave an impression on the Heat. They really emphasize winning here. I want to make a good impression.”
So is Whiteside worth a max deal?
“He's going to command that type of money based on the way he's playing and his size,” said ESPN’s Jalen Rose, who picks the Heat to make the Eastern Conference Finals. “I would not be surprised if he's able to garner a max deal…
“You can lead the league in blocks, can get double figures in rebounds and I've seen him shoot a left-handed hook, I've seen him shoot a right-handed hook. They've got to keep his emotions in check and control his temper when he gets upset or a call goes against him or he gets tangled up with an opponent, even if he grows out of that.”
Say this for Whiteside: He has done everything asked of him. He finished first in blocks at 3.68 (highest since Theo Ratliff averaged 3.74 in 2000-01).... He was tied for third in the NBA in rebounding at 11.85, topping Rony Seikaly’s Heat single-season record of 11.82 in 1991-92… He was third in field-goal percentage at 60.8, behind only DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard.
He was eighth in the NBA’s efficiency ratings and joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the second player ever to block at least 250 shots and shoot over 60 percent in a season.... He raised his free throw percentage from 55.2 percent before the All-Star break to 75 percent after.
He matured in the second half, accepting coming off the bench without protest, setting better screens, becoming more communicative with teammates and accepting coaching graciously. “He really limited his immature moments,” Dwyane Wade said this week.
And Whiteside has smartly surrounded himself with greatness, cultivating relationships with several pre-eminent retired big men: Shaquille O’Neal, Heat executive Alonzo Mourning and Hakeem Olajuwon. He also tells me he is planning a meal with Bill Russell, who set the standard for defensively disruptive centers.
Whiteside and O’Neal had met a couple of times before, but Heat director of team services Kenny McCraney put them in contact a few months ago. Whiteside and O’Neal dined on Lincoln Road during the All-Star break and Whiteside said they regularly talk and text and communicate via FaceTime.
Shaq recently disclosed their friendship publicly, saying on TNT that “I tell him the silliness has to come to a halt. I tell him he can be one of the best centers in the league if he does what he has to do.”
O’Neal told Whiteside at the All-Star break that “you need to average 19 and 10 the rest of the season.”
Since the break, Whiteside came close to achieving O'Neal's vision on points (17.5) and surpassed O'Neal expectation for rebounds (13.3).
“Me and him are like family,” Whiteside said. “My hope is to make Shaq proud.
“I've got to ask Shaq about a nickname [for me]. I know he's got 35 nicknames. One of my favorite is Shaq-A-Polka.”
Though they haven’t spoken in a year, a few things still resonate with Whiteside from his summer tutorial with Olajuwon several years ago: “Hakeem said my hook shot should be my bread and butter” and that has fueled his motivation to polish it.
“He said I should be a big cat, that if a lion walked in a room, the lion doesn’t have to say anything. Just dominate offensively and defensively.”
There’s one aspect of O’Neal’s and Olajuwon’s game that Whiteside has been trying to implement in his own.
“I notice with Shaq, when he gets off balance, he pump fakes to stay on balance,” he said. “Shaq and Hakeem were never off balance shooting a fade-away or a jump hook. So when I’m in the paint, the pump fake can help me with staying on balance and gathering myself.”
Whiteside said he and Mourning don’t work out together, but Zo’s off-court mentoring has helped, and he has been driven by Zo’s challenge to win Defensive Player of the Year.
The dialogue is “on and off with Alonzo,” Whiteside said. “I hear more from Alonzo when we're home. He tells me to keep playing how I'm playing, keep dominating, keep blocking shots. He said he's proud of me. So I'm doing something right.”
Meanwhile, Whiteside said the gentleman who handles Russell’s autographs plans to arrange a dinner for them, and Whiteside is psyched about meeting Russell, cracking “we can talk about shot-blocking tips” over entrees.
Of all the former All-Star power rotation players who have interacted with Whiteside, nobody deserves more credit than Heat assistant Juwan Howard, who has worked tirelessly with him on defensive positioning, his shot and other areas.
Besides having Riley and Erik Spoelstra, Whiteside doesn’t remotely take for granted the value of having resources such as Howard, Mourning, O’Neal and Olajuwon just a phone call away.
“They all did something great and any knowledge I can get, I use,” he said. “It's always helpful to be the best basketball player I can be.”
Now Whiteside, beginning Sunday, can give the Heat another compelling reason why it should do whatever necessary to keep him.
• The Dolphins have used two of their 30 permitted Davie draft visits on two former Pac-12 receivers who project as stretch-the-field tight ends: UCLA’s Thomas Duarte (53 catches, 877 yards, 10 touchdowns last season) and California’s Stephen Anderson (41-474-2 TDs).
Duarte, 6-2, a potential fourth- or fifth-round pick who turned pro after his junior year, lined up at receiver at UCLA but projects as a flex tight end who could create matchup problems in Adam Gase’s offense.
“His size and catch radius make him an imposing threat down the seam and one who could continue to be effective in the red zone at the NFL level,” CBS’ Rob Rang said. “He's a bit of a one-trick pony, winning on crossing routes and down the seam because of his size.”
Anderson, who could go undrafted, played two years of tight end and one at receiver and averaged 14.4 and 11.6 yards per catch the past two seasons.
• Please click here for a bunch of UM football notes from Thursday's final practice before the spring game.
• The Panthers and the agent for impending free agent defenseman Brian Campbell have had preliminary contract talks, and the Panthers want to keep him. One measure of his impact: He was third in the NHL in plus/minus (plus 31), narrowly behind only two Los Angeles Kings.
• The Marlins have been monitoring relievers who could be available via trade, though one team official said several teams want bullpen help and the price is high. Kyle Barraclough has been throwing very well in Triple A and should help eventually.