The Heat’s newest project player is 7-foot center Hassan Whiteside, and now that he’s back in the NBA he’s ready to start “dunking on a lot of people.”
Whiteside played for the Sacramento Kings from 2010 to 2012 before falling out of the league. He joined the Heat on Tuesday after playing in Lebanon, China and then the D-League. The Heat cut veteran point guard Shannon Brown to make room for Whiteside, so the team appears committed to giving Whiteside a long look. He participated in training camp with the Memphis Grizzlies this preseason before playing for the Iowa Energy of the D-League.
“We view him as a developmental player,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Even though he’s played professionally for three years, we still see him as a young prospect, somebody that we can invest our time in, and we’ve shown a history of being able to develop players, and he is a big prospect.”
During an interview with the Miami Herald on Tuesday, Whiteside listed “dunking on a lot of people” as one of his best skills. That should make fans happy. Dunks at AmericanAirlines Arena have been few this season with LeBron James in Cleveland and Dwyane Wade injured.
There wasn’t room for Whiteside in Memphis this season, but timing has been on the 25-year-old’s side lately. He first worked out for the Heat two years ago. Spoelstra, team president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg then took another look last week. With Whiteside fresh in the minds of its executives, the Heat had its best rim protector, Chris Andersen, go down with a nasty sprained ankle on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets.
Only a few days before that injury, Whiteside destroyed the Heat’s D-League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, almost single-handedly. Whiteside went 11 of 12 from the field for 24 points in 29 minutes while also finishing the game with 16 rebounds and four blocks. A week early, Whiteside was 4-of-5 shooting in a game against Santa Cruz and had nine rebounds and four blocks.
“The first game was notable, and the second game just pretty much activated our decision,” Spoelstra said.
Whiteside joins Justin Hamilton, Andre Dawkins, Shabazz Napier and James Ennis at the Heat’s Thanksgiving Day kiddie table. Young and inexperienced players now make up over a quarter of the team. With the Heat searching for rhythm on the court, the team is getting younger on the bench.
In releasing Brown, the Heat is gambling that Napier is ready to play more minutes. Brown started two games in a row (both victories) before being waived, and made the roster this preseason to serve as something of a security policy against Wade’s history of injuries. Wade remains out with a hamstring injury, but could return to action after Thanksgiving for the Heat’s road back-to-back against the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards on Sunday and Monday.
Tuesday marked the seventh consecutive game Wade has watched from the bench in a suit.
“I think it’s good just to inject some young talent in there and try to bring them up to what we do here and, hopefully, it catches on,” Chris Bosh said.