Miami Heat

All eyes are on Hassan Whiteside when it comes to Heat centers

Miami Heat’s Spoelstra talks about Whiteside, playoff loss

Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat coach, talks with the media about his feelings on Hassan Whiteside and his performance and his injury this season.
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Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat coach, talks with the media about his feelings on Hassan Whiteside and his performance and his injury this season.

The Miami Heat returns for Monday’s media day and Tuesday’s start of training camp. The focus of the fifth and final part of the series is at center. Hassan Whiteside — the Heat’s highest-paid player — will start as long as he’s healthy, with Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo as his primary backups. Udonis Haslem, 38, can also be used at center, but the team captain has played a small on-court role in recent years with just 202 minutes played over the past two seasons.

Who’s new?

There isn’t anybody new here. The four centers on the Heat’s roster were on the team last season. Whiteside is entering the third season of the four-year, $98 million contract he signed in the summer of 2016. Olynyk is jumping into the second season of the four-year, $50 million contract. Adebayo is coming into his second NBA season after the Heat selected him with the 14th overall pick in last year’s draft. Haslem has been with organization since signing with Miami as an undrafted free agent in 2003 and has been part of all three NBA championship teams in franchise history.

What to watch for?

Whiteside. Can he stay healthy? Can he be trusted to play more fourth-quarter minutes? Can he get on the same page with coach Erik Spoelstra? There are so many questions surrounding Whiteside, who should be the Heat’s best player. And he still can be, but there are steps he has to take to get there. First, the 29-year-old Whiteside (averaged 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last season) needs to stay healthy. He missed 28 regular-season games last season due to multiple issues — 18 games because of two separate bone bruises on his left knee, nine games with a hip injury and one game because of a stomach illness. Second, Whiteside is going to have to prove he deserves more playing time. He averaged 25.3 minutes last season after logging a career-high 32.6 minutes in 2016-17, and that number was cut to just 15.4 minutes in last season’s five-game playoff run. Finally, he’s going to have to continue to earn and keep Spoelstra’s trust. Whiteside voiced displeasure about his playing time multiple times last season and even questioned his future with the Heat. Talent isn’t the question when it comes to Whiteside, it’s everything else.

Breakout potential

Adebayo is the top breakout candidate at power forward, and he’s the top breakout candidate at center, too. That should say something for the 21-year-old’s upside. In today’s switch-everything-on-defense NBA, Adebayo is a center. But in order to get enough court time as part of a crowded frontcourt, he will also play as a power forward. One of the most impressive parts of Adebayo’s game is his defensive ability, as he limited those he guarded to 42.4 percent shooting last season. His offensive game is still a work in progress.

Key question

What will the Heat get from Whiteside this season? Whiteside scored 10 or fewer points in 15 of the 54 regular-season games he played and was the team’s seventh-leading fourth-quarter scorer last season. The Heat needs more from its $98 million center to become more than it was last year — a one-round-and-done playoff team.

Miami Heat 2018 training camp preview

[A look at the Heat’s point guards, and the one who has breakout potential]

[With Dwyane Wade back, here’s a look at the Heat’s shooting guards]

[What should you expect from the Heat’s small forwards? More growth from Josh Richardson]

[A look at Heat’s power forwards, and how they fared playing with Hassan Whiteside last season]

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