The Dallas Mavericks have emerged as a serious suitor for Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who becomes a free agent on July 1. ESPN Dallas reported on Thursday that Dallas expects to be granted a meeting with Whiteside in the opening hours of free agency.
A friend of Whiteside did not dispute that report and said Whiteside, through back-channels, is generating considerable interest around the league. ESPN identified Portland as another team expected to seriously pursue Whiteside.
That friend said Whiteside prefers to stay with the Heat if all things are equal financially.
But the Heat has given no indication whether it’s willing to offer Whiteside a max deal, even though Heat president Pat Riley has called Whiteside “our No. 1 priority, period.”
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A general manager for another team said he fully expects Whiteside to receive a max deal, with a first-year salary of $22 million if the cap rises to $94 million as projected.
During the regular season, a Heat official expressed hesitation about offering Whiteside a max deal, but that was a couple of months ago and it’s unclear whether the Heat would be willing to offer that if the alternative is losing him.
“More than likely, players out there in free agency, our No. 1 priority is Hassan Whiteside,” Riley said after the season. “He's 26 years old. He's a game changer.”
Because the Heat does not possess full Bird rights for Whiteside, it cannot surpass the salary cap to keep him at a competitive salary.
Miami is limited to offering him only a four-year deal, the same length as other teams can offer.
But because Whiteside has Early Bird rights, the Heat can offer him 7.5 percent raises off his first-year salary, compared with 4.5 percent for other teams.
That means a Heat deal starting at just under $22 million next season would be equivalent to a max deal with another team.
And if Miami goes to the max, the Heat also could offer a four-year deal for $97.9 million, while other teams could offer a four-year deal for $93.9 million, though those figures could change slightly when the final cap number is established.
Additionally, six teams – the Heat, Mavericks, Rockets, Spurs, Grizzlies and Magic – have a financial edge because they play in states without state incoming taxes.
But a friend said that would not be a determining factor, because it would not protect Whiteside if he is traded.
Whiteside led the league in blocks at 3.7 per game last season, was fourth in rebounding at 11.8 and averaged 14.8 points per game.
The Heat has $42 million in cap space, not including Dwyane Wade, who has said he plans to re-sign. Keeping Wade and Whiteside would consume most of that space.
Other free agent centers include Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Pau Gasol, Timofey Mozgov, Zaza Pachulia (Dallas’ incumbent center), Marreese Speights, Ian Mahinmi, Roy Hibbert, Kendrick Perkins, Jon Leuer, Chris Kaman, Bismack Biyombo and Nene Hilario.
The Heat likes Horford and Noah among others in that group, according to a source, and Miami pursued Gasol the last time he was a free agent in 2014.
The ESPN report cited Whiteside and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley as the Mavericks’ priority in free agency.