Heat center Hassan Whiteside indicated Wednesday that he would accept coming off the bench, in a nonbegrudging way, if coach Erik Spoelstra continues to start Bam Adebayo for the remainder of the season.
For the first time since signing a four-year, $98 million contract with the Heat in the summer of 2016, Whiteside came off the bench Monday, closing with four points, seven rebounds and a blocked shot in 15 minutes, with Miami outscoring the Hawks by 14 points during his time on the court. Whiteside had missed the previous three games with a hip injury.
Spoelstra — who likes the pairing of Adebayo with starting power forward Kelly Olynyk — has given no indication when or if he will reinsert Whiteside back in the starting lineup.
So what does Whiteside think of coming off the bench?
“If that’s what coach wants, that’s what he wants,” Whiteside said after the team’s morning shootaround at Spectrum Center. “I got nothing to say. I don’t really know.”
Could he accept it if it’s like this the rest of the season?
“Yeah, whatever the team needs,” he said. “I’m just going to come out here and try to dominate my minutes, be effective
when I’m out there. I think my plus minus for the season is plus.
“I came off a 29, 11 game, got hurt. This is what he wants to go with. Can’t do nothing [but] just accept [it] and come out and dominate.”
Whiteside is correct that he has a positive plus/minus; Miami has outscored teams by 14 with him in the game. Conversely, Miami has been outscored by 22 with Adebayo in the game.
But Miami is plus -62 in 654 minutes with Olynyk and Adebayo paired together, plus-23 with Olynyk and Whiteside.
Whiteside, who is ninth in the league in rebounding per game at 12.2 and sixth in blocked shots at 2.1, said Spoelstra hasn’t explained the move or said whether it’s permanent.
“We haven’t talked about it,” Whiteside said. “I’m not back 100 percent. I’m going to keep coming in and try to play the best I can out there. It’s going to be a different unit out there. I get to play with D-Wade more. I get to look at the bright side.
“You’re going to play against the backup guys. It’s a little different. You can read the game a little more, kind of see what’s going on, who’s hot, what kind of schemes they’re going with. It gives you some advantages. As far as being a starter, you come out warmer.”
Whiteside said he’s “of course” still an NBA starter but “if coach wants to do this, I’m just going to come out and try to dominate for that group and try to make a big impact with that group.”
Spoelstra said Whiteside on Monday was “very good. He was able to handle that well, coming off of injury and really gives us something different with his size on both ends of the court. That’s all it is about right now, all hands on deck. Guys are handling it the right way.”
Of Adebayo’s growth, Spoelstra said: “Our offense has gotten much better with Bam in the game” — with Miami scoring at least 114 points in five consecutive games for the first time in franchise history.
Whiteside is 25th in the NBA in salary this season at $24.4 million. Among players earning more, only Boston’s Gordon Hayward is coming off the bench.
After playing a total of just 260, 130 and 72 minutes during the previous three seasons, Udonis Haslem now has received brief first-half minutes in three of the past four games, while James Johnson — back from a shoulder injury — hasn’t played.
“In short bursts, he has given our team a great emotional boost,” Spoelstra said. “Not only do I trust him, but the players trust him. We will continue to do that when needed. In these moments of truth over the years, I’ve always turned to the guys who have been there and done it. UD has risen to that occasion so many times. [Haslem playing] wasn’t necessarily by plan. We had some injuries, some different circumstances and he was needed.”
▪ Goran Dragic is missing his third game in a row with a calf injury, but Spoelstra said he hopes it’s a short-term deal: “He’s doing extensive work around the clock; he’s very eager to get back.”
▪ Duke alum Justise Winslow took Dwyane Wade, Haslem and Wake Forest alum James Johnson by plane to Tuesday’s Duke-Wake Forest game and the players met with Duke coach Mike Krzyewski, who gave Wade a jersey after the game. Duke acknowledged Wade’s final season on the videoboard during a timeout.
“James brought it up to me; he wanted to go to the game,” Winslow said. “I don’t know how many more times I’ll be able to be with D-Wade and UD together . I wanted them to see my hood and where I went to school and my people. It was a great time. It was a cool night.
“Coach [K] is great. To sit down with coach is cool. He’s one of those people you just feel the presence when he walks in. I don’t get intimidated any more, but there was a time in my life he kind of intimidated me. It’s kind of the same dynamic with the Godfather here in Miami, coach [Pat] Riley. Those guys have been around the game for a longtime, great minds when it comes to basketball, building brands.”
Wade, who had never been to Duke, appreciated Winslow taking them to the game: “I like what the young fellow did. Great environment. It was cool to talk to coach K and coaching staff.”