Heat Check

A year after signing his free agent deal with Heat, Whiteside ready to recruit, lead push for a title

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside walks through Bayfront Park on his way to speak to reporters at the Mountain Dew NBA 3X tournament on Sunday, June 4, 2017.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside walks through Bayfront Park on his way to speak to reporters at the Mountain Dew NBA 3X tournament on Sunday, June 4, 2017. Manny Navarro

Hassan Whiteside has kept himself busy since the Miami Heat’s season came to an abrupt and unfulfilling end on April 12.

He’s been playing football and basketball with Steelers All-Pro wide receiver and Miami native Antonio Brown, working out with his own Heat teammates down at AmericanAirlines Arena, and last week he bought his mother a six-bedroom dream home in a suburb outside of Charlotte, N.C.

Life is certainly different than it was a year ago when Whiteside, 27, was about to hit free agency unsure where his future might be.

Now, he says, he has “a base.” He wants to recruit and focus on leading the Heat to a championship.

“It’s different you know [than it was last summer],” Whiteside said Sunday at Bayfront Park as he attended the Mountain Dew NBA 3X tournament among a throng of Heat fans who played NBA2K with him. “I can watch film. I can do a little recruiting, get a couple good free agents in here, big free agents. I can focus on the season next year.”

The Heat, which will have roughly $38 million in cap space once it releases 11-time All-Star Chris Bosh, could go a couple different directions when free agency opens next month.

Team president Pat Riley could spend most of team’s remaining cap space on an All-Star like Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap or Blake Griffin. Or, Riley could turn around and use what’s available to sign the Heat’s own free agents while adding a new piece here or there.

Whiteside said he’s “very confident” Dion Waiters and James Johnson, who emerged during their first season with the Heat, will be back. Whiteside says he checks in with both players frequently.

“I’m not even thinking about them being gone,” he said. “I’m thinking like they will be here next year... [those] guys want to be here.”

Whiteside said he still believes the Heat, which barely missed the playoffs at 41-41 after a 30-11 second half finish, would have gone very deep into the postseason had it reached the playoffs.

And despite how easy Golden State and Cleveland made it look getting to the NBA Finals, Whiteside said he doesn’t believe the Heat needs to build a Super Team to contend for a title.

“I think we got a chance next year, honestly,” Whiteside said. “You know, these guys are coming into their own. You don’t know what a guy like Dion is going to bring and Goran [Dragic]. Them guys can become superstars themselves. So you might not even have to go get anybody else. It might be enough.”

After leading the league in blocks last season and rebounding this season, Whiteside, who averaged 17.0 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks during the 2016-17 campaign, said he wants to continue to focus on expanding his offensive game next season. He says he wants to “push the ball more” and he might even “shoot a three [pointer] every once and a while.”

The Miami Heat center spoke to reporters Sunday June 4, 2017 at the Mountain Dew NBA 3X tournament at Bayfront Park. Video by Manny Navarro.

“I don't really want to be like a big-time perimeter guy,” Whiteside said. “I just want to shoot enough to where you’ve actually got to guard it. Even threes, I can shoot threes. But I don’t want to be one of those centers that shoots five or six threes and then you’re not even dominating in the paint anymore.”

As far as the June 22nd draft is concerned, Whiteside said he’s been keeping an eye on a couple players the Heat could draft.

Miami picks 14th.

“I don’t know who we’re going to draft, but them guys, there’s a lot of great players man,” Whiteside said. “... I’m excited. I trust the front office.”

What does Whiteside think the Heat needs to add?

“You know you can always add shooting – especially the way Dion and Goran get in the paint,” Whiteside said. “You can never have too many shooters. That’s what a coach once told me.”

▪ So who could Whiteside recruit in free agency to the Heat?

“I’ve got some friends that are really well established NBA players,” he said with a grin. “I’ll let you guys know when they sign on that dotted line if it was me or not.”

▪ Whiteside said his friendship with Antonio Brown, a Miami Norland grad and native, was sparked by mutual friend and rapper DJ Khaled. Whiteside said Brown “definitely has the speed to play in the NBA.”

“I told him he’s got to slow down when he gets to the rim, it’s not an end zone,” Whiteside said. “He works extremely hard. I didn’t know he worked that hard. He works for everything he’s got.”

Does Whiteside think he could play in the NFL? After all, his father Hasson Arbubakrr was a ninth round 1983 draft pick by Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who spent a season playing with the Minnesota Vikings before continuing his career in the Canadian Football League.

“I told [Antonio Brown] I can play tight end and to just bring me in in the red zone,” Whiteside said. “I’ll have 20 yards for the game, but three touchdowns. Just keep throwing jump balls for me.”