Though center Hassan Whiteside appears unlikely to opt out of a contract that would pay him $27.1 million next season, Whiteside said late Tuesday night that he would at least give the matter some thought after watching his playing time plunge the past two months.
“I’m definitely going to weigh my options,” said Whiteside, who is the Heat’s highest-paid player and faces a late June deadline to decide whether to exercise the opt out. “It’s definitely a decision I got to make and do the best for me. I feel like if I’m playing, I’m going to produce so it will take care of itself.”
Whiteside, 29, who is finishing the third season of a four-year, $98 million contract he signed in the summer of 2016, entered Wednesday’s season finale against the Nets averaging 12.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 72 games. But his playing time is down to 23.3 minutes per game, which is the fewest minutes he has averaged since joining the Heat in the middle of the 2014-15 season.
After starting in each of his first 53 games of the season, Whiteside has been moved to a bench role.
Second-year center Bam Adebayo has taken his spot in the Heat’s starting lineup, with Whiteside playing the past 19 games as a reserve. Whiteside has averaged 10.6 points on 63.1 percent shooting, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 17.3 minutes during that 19-game span, compared to Adebayo’s 27.2 minutes played per game during that time.
“I don’t think I’m a 20-minute guy,” Whiteside said. “I average what, 20 minutes? So I think I can play more and I can do more. So I definitely think what I bring to the game is at a high level for my position. You know, I led the league in categories that you would want a big man to lead the league in. I feel like I can keep doing that.”
Whiteside has pointed to his per-36 numbers in the past as proof that he can do more with additional playing time. He’s averaging 22 points and a league-leading 18.3 rebounds per 36 minutes this season.
Whiteside led the NBA with 14.1 rebounds per game in 2016-17 and led the NBA with 3.7 blocks per game in 2015-16. He averaged a career-high 32.6 minutes of playing time in 2016-17, which was the first season of his current $98 million contract.
“Of course,” Whiteside said when asked if his per-36 numbers are an indication of what he could do with more playing time. “Coming off my first year I signed my contract, I averaged 32 minutes. What did I average 17 and 15 or something? You add four more minutes to that …”
Whiteside has expressed frustration about his role before, as he complained multiple times about playing time and drew a fine for one expletive-filled rant last season. But he hasn’t complained publicly all season about his reduced minutes.
Although unlikely, if Whiteside does decide to become a free agent this offseason, it would eliminate $27 million off the Heat’s books for next season. But it wouldn’t give the Heat enough cap space to bid for a high-end free agent unless Goran Dragic also bypassed a player option for $19 million next season.
The Heat currently has 11 players under contract for next season, with impending free agent Udonis Haslem not included in that group. They are collectively scheduled to earn around $134 million, which is right at the projected luxury tax line, but could be lowered by about $6 million by releasing Ryan Anderson. That does not account for an allocation for the Heat’s first-round draft pick.
That group of 11 includes two players with opt-out clauses: Whiteside and Dragic. The Heat is well above next season’s projected $109 million cap if Whiteside and Dragic return next season.
HEAT ADDS 15TH PLAYER
The Heat announced it signed guard Kendrick Nunn on Wednesday, adding an interesting developmental player for its summer program and potentially beyond. It brings the Heat’s roster to the league limit of 15, with Miami still able to avoid the luxury tax this season.
Nunn, 6-3, has been playing for the San Cruz Warriors, the Warriors’ G League affiliate, and averaged 19.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 49 games while shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range.
Undrafted last June, Nunn played summer league with the Warriors but was released by Golden State on Oct 12.
Nunn began his college career at Illinois, where he averaged 10.6 points in 96 games and was named to the Big 10’s All-Freshman team.
Nunn was dismissed from the Illinois basketball team in May 2016 after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge and transferred to Oakland University. He sat out a year but then starred as a senior at Oakland, averaging 25.9 points and being named Horizon League Player of the Year. He led NCAA Division I with 4.5 three-point shots made per game and he finished second in the nation in scoring average, behind then-Oklahoma and now Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.
Nunn played high school ball at Simeon in Chicago, which produced NBA players Derrick Rose, Bobby Simmons and Jabari Parker (who had his jersey retired the same night Nunn did).
▪ Tuesday’s Heat-76ers game on Fox Sports Sun — Dwyane Wade’s home finale — was watched in 7.2 percent of Miami-Fort Lauderdale homes with TV sets, making it the most-watched Heat game since Feb. 24, 2016.