A day after he was fined an undisclosed amount for his expletive-filled rant in which he complained about diminished playing time this season, Hassan Whiteside said he regretted the way he handled the situation and blamed frustration for his outburst.
His teammates and coach, meanwhile, were ready to move on, eager to lock up a playoff spot in the coming days.
“I was just frustrated, man. I was frustrated that we lost. I really wanted to get that game,” Whiteside, the team’s highest-paid player, said as a Heat media relations staffer stood by his side Monday after practice inside AmericanAirlines Arena.
“I could have handled it different,” he continued. “But I got so caught up in wanting to get that win. I get real competitive. I really want to be out there. But I just trust coach’s decision.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he spoke to Whiteside one-on-one after his comments Saturday night.
Whiteside is expected to make his 50th start of the season in Tuesday’s home game against Atlanta. The Heat, the No. 7 seed in the East at 41-36, can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Hawks (22-55) or a Detroit (37-40) loss to the 76ers (46-30) on Wednesday.
“We’ve already handled it within the team,” Spoelstra said. “Hassan has been fined. It’s poor timing, poor judgment on his part. It’s not the first time a player has gone through frustration right after a game. That’s why I've always said after the game guys should just take a shower, cool off, maybe do a little bit of media and then really have a better, coherent response to whatever happened during the course of the game the next day — all of us.
“But, we’re here to help Hassan. He’s going to be just fine. We're going to help him continue to learn how to be a better professional, how to be a better leader in this locker room, how to be a better teammate and ultimately how to be a better winner. He’s been taking those steps. The team, we handled it before practice, it’s behind us now. The only thing that's on all of our minds right now is we’ve got to get the next win, you know, to secure this thing and then move on from there and see if we can still move forward in the standings.”
Spoelstra said Whiteside’s comments had “no effect on anybody in the locker room” and “Hassan is still one of our brothers.”
“Nobody is perfect,” Spoelstra continued. “It has nothing to do with the role. He knows exactly what's expected of him as he continues to get back in shape. He knows what I want out of him and what his teammates want out of him. He’ll continue to work to get into better shape. We'll get him back where he was before he got hurt about 3 1/2 weeks ago.”
Whiteside’s attitude Monday afternoon was starkly different than the one he displayed in the aftermath of Saturday’s 110-109 overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets when he criticized Heat coaches for often benching him late in games when the opponent plays a small lineup.
He played just 20 of a possible 53 minutes Saturday and didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter or overtime. He’s played in the fourth quarter only 29 times this season. Last season, he played in the fourth quarter in 71 of his 77 games.
Backup Kelly Olynyk and rookie Bam Adebayo are averaging more fourth-quarter minutes this season than Whiteside.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to get the next win,” Spoelstra said. “There’s going to be several guys that don’t have the opportunity to play in the fourth quarter. It’s not just him. Everybody has to go through those emotions. You can go down the line of guys who’ve had to sacrifice … It’s not exclusive to one player. There are several players, but it’s all about what’s best for the team right now. We have a great locker room, a great group of guys who understand that. It doesn’t mean that guys don’t feel emotions from time to time.
“If guys want to throw a few eggs at my car after the game or [toilet paper] my house, that’s actually a better way to deal with it than speaking to all of you about the frustrations. I want guys that want to be out there. I want competitors that want to be in the game and have an opportunity to express themselves and help the team.”
Health has been a factor for Whiteside all season. He has missed 28 games because of injury or illness this season (18 for a bone bruise, one with a stomach virus, and nine for a strained left hip flexor). He is averaging 25.4 minutes per game this season, down from 29.1 and 32.6 minutes per game the previous two seasons.
Asked Saturday how tough it is to watch from the bench when the opponent goes small, Whiteside said: “It’s annoying. We shouldn’t. Why are we matching up? We’ve got one of the best centers in the league. Why are we matching up?
“A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They are going to use their strengths. It’s bull [expletive]. It’s really bull [expletive], man. There are a lot of teams that can use a center. [Expletive]. That’s one of them. That’s bull [expletive].”
Whiteside, due $25.4 million next season and $27 million in 2019-20 (he has a player option), later questioned his future with the team.
Monday, Whiteside, the league leader in rebounds last season and in blocks in 2015-16, said he’s focused on trying to lead the Heat into the playoffs. As for his future beyond this season, Whiteside said Monday “nobody ever knows their future.” But he said he still feels like a good fit in Miami.
“There’s nothing guaranteed except death,” said Whiteside, who is averaging 14.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. “... It’s a business at the end of the day. Right now, I definitely would like to be here. But the Heat make all the decisions.”
Veteran Udonis Haslem said he told Whiteside to come talk to him before opening his mouth next time about playing time.
“We’re letting Hassan know that we're here for him as a team, beyond basketball,” Haslem said. “I told him to come to me, talk to me about it. I’ve been here. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve been through every situation as a player. So when you’re going through things and you're frustrated, reach out to one of your brothers and we can kind of help calm him down. Just take a step and think about some things before saying them.
“We want Hassan to be passionate about playing. We want Hassan to be passionate about going out there and helping this team win ball games.”
Dwyane Wade said Whiteside can definitely help the Heat win in the playoffs and moving forward.
“When he’s engaged and into it and wants to do what Hassan does, he’s one of the most dominant centers in our game,” Wade said. “No one does it with blocks, triple doubles with blocks. You can’t do it every game, but there’s some nights where you see it that he’s in beast mode. But there’s some nights as players where you just go through the motions. And that’s all of us as players. When he puts his mind to the game and he wants to go out and dominate, it’s hard for people to go to the levels that a big guy like that can go to.”