Miami Heat

Heat’s Whiteside shares insights from ‘good meeting’ with Spoelstra, African safari

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside reacts after a play  during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Tuesday, March 21, 2017.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside reacts after a play during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Tuesday, March 21, 2017.

Hassan Whiteside said Wednesday he’s ready to put both his struggles and complaints about reduced playing time behind him and is looking forward to a healthy and fresh start with coach Erik Spoelstra when the Miami Heat gets back together for training camp next month.

“I want to get in the gym as soon as possible, get jump shots up and show Miami a healthy Hassan Whiteside,” said Whiteside, who was made available for interviews Wednesday by the NBA because he’s playing in Saturday’s third annual NBA Africa Game in Pretoria, South Africa.

“I wasn’t healthy all year last year. I was in and out of the rotation just with injuries. Just coming back healthy, coming back from that bone bruise, it takes months to heal. I started feeling like myself these last two or three months, getting back to my explosiveness. A lot of the pain went away and I just feel good again.”

Whiteside, who turned 29 in June, said he met with Spoelstra for lunch last month and the two spent hours talking about both basketball and life.

When the season ended back in April with an immensely disappointing first-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Whiteside once again voiced his displeasure about his reduced playing time.

He played only 10 minutes in Philadelphia’s series-clinching Game 5 win and only 77 minutes total in the series (tied with rookie Bam Adebayo for ninth on the team).

His limited minutes were the byproduct of foul trouble, Philadelphia playing some lineups without a natural center, and the conclusion of the coaching staff that the team was often better playing without him.

The Heat then went into the offseason exploring trade options for Whiteside, but didn’t find much of a market for a player who’s due $24.4 million this season and $27.1 million next season and plays a position that has become somewhat devalued.

The Heat has since turned its attention to repairing the marriage between its highest paid player and coach. Whiteside said his meeting with Spoelstra in a Miami hotel last month was encouraging.

“We had a great talk. Just trust on both sides, I think that’s the biggest thing – trusting each other,” Whiteside said. “It was about a four hour meeting. It was a lot about life. It was like two hours basketball; two hours life. It was a good meeting.”

Does Whiteside still get along with Spoelstra personally?

“Me and Coach Spo [are] fine,” he answered after a chuckle. “It was a great conversation between us. Like I said, me and Coach Spo is good. I’m excited coming back healthy this year, having Dion [Waiters], aka Philly Cheese coming back healthy, having all the guys healthy. Let’s get another shot at this thing with the guys healthy.”

With Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo fighting for playing time, Whiteside’s average minutes per game dropped from 32.6 in 2016-17 to 25.3 this past season. He was fined by the team in late March for an expletive filled rant about not being used more against some smaller lineups. Then, in the playoffs his role was reduced even more.

So does Whiteside expect to play more next season now that he’s healthy?

“I think so because I’ll be healthy,” said Whiteside, who missed 28 games because of injuries. “Last year I wasn’t healthy. I had a lot of injuries. I had reinjured my knee. So I believe that I’ll play more, you know.”

Whiteside is playing for Team World in Saturday’s exhibition game, which tips off at 11 a.m. Team Africa, which features Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid of Cameroon and former Heat forward Luol Deng of the Sudan, is being coached by Heat assistant Juwan Howard.

Whiteside said he did Wednesday’s interview with the media sitting next to Embiid.

“I never talked to him off the court,” Whiteside said of Embiid, who has exchanged barbs with Whiteside in the past. “I had a conversation with him. You get a different perspective when you talk to them off the court. It was actually interesting. We talked about going through injuries and just staying positive.”

Whiteside, who loves animals and has a huge fish tank in his house, went on a safari earlier this week in Africa.

“The coolest thing was probably just seeing like rhinos and seeing like a group of hyenas eating a zebra,” he said. “I’ve seen it on the Discovery Channel, but seeing that in person is pretty incredible.”

Whiteside weighed in on what Dwyane Wade should do about his future. Wade has yet to inform the Heat if he’s coming back for a 16th season or not.

“I think D-Wade is going to follow his heart and do what he feels like,” Whiteside said. “I’ve been watching D-Wade since high school, since I was younger. He knows the game in and out. He’s a Heat lifer. He did so much in his career. Either way it goes I just want him to be happy at the end of the day.”

Whiteside said he’s “extremely happy” the Heat resigned Wayne Ellington, who set a franchise record for three-pointers last season.

“We played in the Pro-Am together,” Whiteside said. “His face just lit up. He’s so happy right now. Just seeing that joy, just having my guy back another year [makes me happy]. He’s still raining threes on people.”

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