MIAMI — As Hassan Whiteside prepared to speak to reporters following Wednesday’s practice, he changed his voice to sound like another dominant center.
With a deep voice that made it hard to understand, it was obvious who Whiteside was imitating with the Heat set to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 32 jersey during Thursday’s home game against the Lakers.
Whiteside apparently does a good O’Neal impersonation. After Tuesday’s loss to the Magic, Whiteside resembled O’Neal in a different way.
When asked if he believes he’s getting the ball enough late in games, Whiteside gave an honest answer just like O’Neal was known to do. Even after playing 47 minutes and attempting a team-high 22 shots to finish with 32 points and 15 rebounds against Orlando, Whiteside wanted more touches.
“They say I’m the franchise player, I would think I should get more,” Whiteside said after Tuesday’s double-overtime loss to Orlando. “But I don’t know, man. I don’t think so, to be honest. But coach going to coach.”
A day after making those comments, Whiteside didn’t back down from his statement. The Heat’s $98 million center played in all but 24 seconds of the two overtimes and attempted three shots –making two of them — during that stretch.
The Heat attempted 19 shots over the two overtime periods. Justise Winslow took a team-high six of those shots and Tyler Johnson was second with four shots attempts.
“I do want to get more touches,” Whiteside said Wednesday. “It’s not anything to downplay or downplay anybody or anything. That’s just what it was. I just want to force my will on the game and I felt that was the best chance I had.”
And coach Erik Spoelstra approves of Whiteside’s approach.
“I’m OK with that,” Spoelstra said Wednesday. “You know why? Because it matters right now to him and he’s learning how to impact winning. Now, his instinct and all great players’ instinct is give me the ball. Now there’s a myriad of plays that you can make to impact winning, but these games matter and it frustrates him not being able to help the team get over the hump and win. I think that is great progress.”
Even though Whiteside is averaging 18.1 points, 14.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, the numbers say that Whiteside has a point.
The 27-year-old ranks seventh on the team and 26th among NBA centers with 44.9 touches per game, according to NBA.com. In Tuesday’s loss to Orlando, Whiteside finished with the sixth-most touches on the team with 57 behind Goran Dragic (93), Justise Winslow (73), Tyler Johnson (69), Josh Richardson (68) and James Johnson (58).
“That’s the competitive nature,” Whiteside said of wanting the ball more. “Everybody is competitive. When you feel like you’re dominating, you get so caught up in trying to force a win for the team. I want to win so bad. I don’t think you all understand. I probably slept two hours last night. I just want to win so bad. I love these guys. We’ve got great fans. I just want us to win a championship every year. I just felt sorry. I just felt bad.”
But there’s a different way that Whiteside could have handled the situation. Heat president Pat Riley and O’Neal agreed on a conference call with reporters Wednesday that Whiteside should have kept his displeasure within the locker room.
“What he has to understand is that you can’t go about it like that,” O’Neal said about Whiteside venting his frustration to the media. “I went about it like that and it was definitely the wrong way. And a lot of times it hurt me. He’s just needs to have a conversation with Dragic and say, ‘Look, you missed me a couple of times.'”
Or Whiteside could have went straight to Spoelstra to complain about his touches.
“You walk into the coaches’ office. That’s what you do,” Riley sad. “What Hassan should do is walk in with a clipboard and a pen and diagram some plays he likes. I’m sure his coach will be amenable to listening to him.”
And while the statistics suggest Whiteside has a point, there are other ways he can affect the game without scoring. As the NBA’s leading rebounder, he can create his own touches on the offensive glass.
“You don’t always have to do it by having the ball come to you,” Riley said. “You can do it on the offensive boards, you can do it in transition, you can do it at the free-throw line. There’s a lot of different ways you can do it. I understand his frustration. There’s a lot of pressure on him. He feels the pressure. Welcome to the big leagues and welcome to the big time.”
Udonis Haslem played with both Whiteside and O’Neal on the Heat. He was asked if Whiteside’s comments brought back memories involving the Hall of Fame center.
“Shaq did used to complain about [touches],” Haslem recalled. “But at the same time, we had a young guy named Dwyane Wade that Shaq understood was the future and he was willing to take a back seat and understand it wasn’t all about him getting the ball either.”
This is all new for Whiteside. Two seasons ago, he was fighting for a spot in the NBA and now he’s considered “the franchise player.”
“It’s just different,” Whiteside said. “More times people were looking at Wade and now they’re looking at me. It’s different.”
And he’s learning how to handle that on the go.