Greg Cote

This Heat season — and his own wavering future — depend on Hassan Whiteside rising up

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) flexes after a dunk in the first quarter in a game against the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena on February 5.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) flexes after a dunk in the first quarter in a game against the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena on February 5.

He is big. His salary is big. The pressure on him is big. The opportunity for him is big. Now all Hassan Whiteside has to do is come up big — on the biggest stage of his NBA career — to help save this Miami Heat season ... and his own future with the team.

Because the Whiteside we saw shrink and disappear in Game 1 of this NBA playoff series vs. Philadelphia isn't worth having. Isn't worth the money or the minutes. That Whiteside is ineffective when he's on the floor, far too easy to substitute and made expendable by the likes of dependable Kelly Olynyk and ascending Bam Adebayo.

Two points on 1-for-4 shooting in 12 minutes? And the Heat outscored by 16 points with him on the floor? At a cost of $23.8 million? At that price your center better be your centerpiece or something reliably close, not a situational player. At that price you need someone who leads, not sulks.

That is why nobody has more burden of proof on him in South Florida sports right now than Whiteside. It is the onus he carries into Game 2 in Philly on Monday night — Miami needing to win after a 130-103 shellacking in Game 1, and Whiteside needing to step up with force.

Whiteside is not particularly young by NBA chronology, turning 29 in June as this postseason ebbs. The 76ers' Joel Embiid, his Twitter rival, is better and five years younger. Whiteside is due to make $24.4 million next season and $27.1 million in two years, then become a free agent in the summer of 2020 as he's turning 31. There is still time, but not much of it, for Whiteside to prove his worth. Because right now he is looking like a Pat Riley gamble of dubious result, relative to that four-year contract worth nearly $100 million. I hate to make it so much about money, but his is a franchise drain that limits the team having the cap space to get better elsewhere.

All of that has put a clock on Whiteside's time and future in Miami. Saturday had it ticking rather loudly. Only Whiteside can make the sound stop.

Dwyane Wade talks to the media about Hassan Whiteside's dominant basketball skills as a center for the Miami Heat on Monday, April 2, 2018.

The Heat had nine players with a "plus" rating on plus/minus points this season, led by Olynyk's plus-231 with him in the game. Whiteside had a minus-75, the worst by a lot of any Heat player who played at least half the games. If there is any argument whether your team might be better off without a guy on the floor, he might not be worth $23.8 million. I'm just saying. (The Sixer's Embiid, by comparison, had a plus-/minus of plus-484, tied for sixth best in the entire league.)

Whiteside's minutes were limited Saturday because Philly, even sans Embiid for at least another game, had big men shooting 3's, a tough defend for Whiteside. But that had little do to do with his inability to be more of a force on offense. On the bright side, there was no spasm of immaturity after the game about his minutes, as there had been in a recent tirade that brought a team fine.

It is up to coach Erik Spoelstra to find a way to get more minutes from Whiteside and up to Whiteside to make Spoelstra want to and have a need to.

"That's the way the league has been, and that's what he's been working on all season is to play shooting bigs and still find ways to impact our team positively at the rim," said the coach.

"I have to be more aggressive," Whiteside put it bluntly.

Hassan Whiteside had 30 points and 20 rebounds, dominating the short-handed Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

He has to show he can be assertive and dominant, not the player Embiid has chided as "soft" in one of their social-media volleys lobbed at each other.

Saturday night has made the rest of this opening series a metaphor for Whiteside's career and Heat future, an opportunity for him to either flip the narrative on him or see the cement on that narrative harden.

"This is where moments are made," Whiteside had said, of the postseason.

This also is where futures are made, or cast in doubt.

Is Hassan Whiteside worth having? Worth keeping beyond this season?

Prove it, big man, and do it now. Earn your money.

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