Hassan Whiteside made a very mature decision Friday, which nicely addresses the area of greatest concern in his development as a shot-blocking savant.
By re-signing with the Miami Heat, Whiteside took the smart money, all $98 million of it.
He could have gotten close to that over the course of four-year deals offered by the Dallas Mavericks, who got a meeting with the 7-footer, and the Portland Trail Blazers, who wanted one but missed out.
Those other teams, however, don’t have Alonzo Mourning hanging around practice. They don’t have Udonis Haslem, a basketball gypsy just like Whiteside early in his career, eager to play again for the minimum and ready to remind whiners of what it takes to be a winner.
The others don’t have Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, two championship vets who already have established a position of authority when it comes to holding Whiteside accountable. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has a history of benching the big man, too, when it serves the team best.
Last we come to Pat Riley, who might just as well have been listed first. No other franchise boss is as consistently devoted to the development of a powerful inside game.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Patrick Ewing. Zo. Shaquille O’Neal. All played for Riley, and in the case of Zo and Shaq it’s because he brought them to Miami in major trades. Matter of fact, Zo and Shaq played together on the Heat’s 2006 NBA title team. That’s power to the max.
Now, all of a sudden, it’s salary cap commitment to the max for Whiteside and Bosh, the big, friendly giants of a new Riley script.
To be sure, Bosh is not a classic post player at 6-feet-11 and it’s still unclear when or if he can return to the lineup because of blood-clot concerns, but the basic point remains. While Wade waits on a Heat contract offer and while Kevin Durant considers his options between Riley’s pitch and the deals offered by five other teams, Miami has already devoted $45.7 million, or roughly half of its 2016-17 cap space, to a couple of bigs.
Whiteside has two advantages going for him, in other words. He’s part of the overall Heat culture, as professional as it gets, and also the more specific skyscraper society established on every Riley team.
Think of Ike Austin, a raw, 6-foot-10 bruiser who bounced around the pro leagues of France and Turkey before being voted the NBA’s Most Improved Player while playing for Riley, then Miami’s head coach, during the 1996-97 season.
Whiteside turned 27 a couple of weeks ago but much improvement is still possible, and necessary, with him, too. Leading the league with an average of 3.7 blocks per game and tying for third in rebounds, that’s stupendous. But how about raising Whiteside’s average scoring output of 14.2 points? He certainly showed that potential by scoring 27 and 26 points in consecutive games in March.
To this point, slam dunks off lob passes are Hassan’s most reliable move. Also, shooting just 65 percent from the free-throw line, a Heat team-low, has sometimes led to frustrating Hack-a-Hassan strategies.
All of these areas and more will get the unrelenting attention of Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard and Zo, a team vice president, now that Whiteside has been earned a full promotion from project to franchise cornerstone.
A little bit of Zo goes a long way, especially when it comes to teaching mental toughness. We’re talking about a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who as a 22-year-old Charlotte Hornets rookie averaged 21 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game.
That, of course, is what Hall of Famers do. Whiteside is far from that, enormous contract notwithstanding. It’s getting easier to believe, though, when he says he is eager to get to work on the blind spots in his game.
It’s easier because Hassan chose the smart money in Miami, and not the lure of a new market that would have adored and pampered him just for showing up.