There are a few big questions looming over the Miami Heat as it begins training camp Tuesday at FAU.
Aside from the trade speculation surrounding the Heat and Jimmy Butler, there’s another question waiting to be answered: Which Hassan Whiteside will the Heat get?
There’s the Whiteside who helped carry the Heat to a 30-11 finish two seasons ago. Then there’s the Whiteside who struggled to earn playing time and averaged just 15.4 minutes of court time in the playoffs last season.
It was obvious during Monday’s Media Day at AmericanAirlines Arena that coaches and players are betting on getting the effective and impactful version of Whiteside this season.
“Let’s not forget who he was in the beginning of last year, how he started the season when he was healthy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But more importantly, how he was the season before. He was a major part of our team success in the second half of the season when we won 30 games, really having an impact on the court, as a teammate, learning really how to impact winning. I still see that guy.”
That guy wasn’t around much last season. After dominating in the opener with 26 points and 22 rebounds, injuries derailed his season as he went on to miss 28 regular-season games 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.
“I feel a lot different,” Whiteside said during Media Day. “I feel more explosive jumping. I feel more like how I’ve been in the past. Unfortunately, I got hurt after my first game last year, but there’s nothing I could do about it.”
Whiteside, who is entering the third season of the four-year, $98 million contract he signed with the Heat in 2016, averaged 14 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last season. Those numbers were down from the season before, when he averaged 17 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
What are the reasons for that dip in production? Primarily injuries and less playing time, as his minutes were cut from 32.6 in 2016-17 to 25.3 last season.
“He said his leg feels good, and that’s a big thing for him,” Heat wing player Josh Richardson said. “Half the season last year, he wasn’t all the way there. He can come back to being that terror that he was. An aggressive Hassan Whiteside, there’s no ceiling to what you can do.”
Whiteside, who turned 29 in June, also sounds like he’s on the same page with Spoelstra. After voicing his displeasure about his playing time multiple times last season and even questioning his future with the Heat, Whiteside is ready for a fresh start with his coach.
“It was a lot of emotions going high,” Whiteside said of his relationship with Spoelstra. “It was a tough playoff run. It was a tough season. But I think we learned from it and we grew from it. Let’s move on and let’s get back to the playoffs.”
On Spoelstra’s end, he has been pleased with what he’s seen from Whiteside.
“One of the most important relationships the head coach has is with his starting center,” Spoelstra said. “Other most important relationships he has is with the other men in that locker room and he’s taking great steps to develop those relationships this summer. I feel good about the work he’s put in. He’s in perfect shape. You’ll see.”
Beyond making his first All-Star Game — one that will be held in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina — Whiteside’s goal is helping the Heat make the playoffs for the second consecutive season. There will be bumps along the way, though.
How will Whiteside handle those bumps? Only then will Whiteside show just how much he grew this summer.
“There will be a lot of story lines, every night. He and I know,” Spoelstra said. “It will be about how many minutes did he play? Did he play with two fouls? Did he play with three fouls? Did he play in the fourth quarter? Being able to compartmentalize and focus on the things you can control and do that when it gets uncomfortable, that’s the growth opportunity.
“We need him. He knows that, I know that and again I haven’t forgotten about the player he’s capable of being. I don’t have a short memory.”