Heat’s top free agency priority is re-signing Hassan Whiteside


Hassan Whiteside should be heading for a max contract this summer, and the Miami Heat have said it’s their “No. 1 priority” in free agency to re-sign him.

The absence of Hassan Whiteside in the playoffs was blindingly obvious for the Miami Heat after they lost him in Game 3 against the Toronto Raptors due to a knee injury. Luckily, the Raptors also lost their starting center and force in the paint when Jonas Valanciunas went down minutes later, but the rest of the series served as a perfect example of just how valuable Whiteside’s high-flying impact around the basket is.

He’s been criticized a fair amount this season despite leading the NBA in defensive rating, block percentage and blocks per game with 3.7 (second place DeAndre Jordan wasn’t close with 2.3). Much of that criticism is due to his motor and tendency to leave his position and bait players into the lane for easy rejections. However, he’s started addressing some of those issues as the season has gone on, leaving the Heat with no doubt that their top priority in free agency this summer is re-signing him (per AJ Neuharth-Keusch of USA Today Sports):

"“He’s obviously, I think, our No. 1 priority. Period. You don’t have to look further than that,” [Heat president Pat] Riley said. “While there might be players out there in free agency, our No. 1 priority is Hassan Whiteside. He’s 26 years old. He’s a game changer. I don’t think he’s even reached his real ceiling in a couple areas of the game …”"

Riley, one of the most respected people in basketball, is right that Whiteside has not reached his ceiling. He certainly has flaws on defense, his offensive game is still relatively limited to emphatic alley-oops, hook shots and a decent 10-15 foot jumper, and he has almost no passing game. On top of that, the Heat allowed an extra point per 100 possessions with him on the floor this season.

However, he’s young and his remarkable rise to stardom is only just beginning. There is a great deal of room for improvement, and his sheer size and athleticism give him a strong foundation to build on.

On top of Whiteside’s own ability, the questions about Chris Bosh’s health — it is possible he will never play again due to his issues with blood clots — only heighten Whiteside’s value.

There are downsides to keeping Whiteside. The Heat also need to re-sign Dwyane Wade, who becomes a free agent this summer, they probably want to join in the pursuit of Kevin Durant, and Whiteside is essentially a lock to command a max contract as the salary cap rises to $90.

If they want to strengthen the rest of their roster effectively, re-signing  Whiteside won’t make it easy.

“I want to build a team that can win, and (Whiteside’s) got to be part of that,” Riley added. “I really believe it’s important for him to be part of that.”

Hopefully for the Heat, they can make something work.

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