MINNEAPOLIS – Okaro White wasted little time making an impact when he joined the Miami Heat 20 days ago, and now it has paid off.
The 6-foot-8 forward, who joined the team Jan. 17 on a 10-day contract, signed a two-year deal today after being thrust into several high-pressure situations and handling each like a seasoned veteran.
White, 24, will take the roster spot of forward Derrick Williams, who released. The Heat tried to trade the sparingly-used Williams but found no takers. Williams signed a one-year, $4.6 million deal last summer and now Miami will be responsible for the approximate $1.7 million remaining on that contract.
White was with the Heat during the summer and for three weeks of training camp before being send to Miami’s D-league affiliate in Sioux Falls. He was promoted from the Skyforces and signed two 10-day contracts. If the Heat did not sign White for the rest of the season he would have become a free agent.
“It’s a big accomplishment in my career,” said White, the former Florida State standout. “I don’t want it to stop here. I want to keep grinding some more.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra compared White’s emergence to that of Rodney McGruder’s. McGruder made the Heat on the final cut of training camp and has started 34 games.
“He was very persistent in trying to get better with his approach starting after summer league with us then through training camp,” Spoelstra said. “Then really approaching Sioux Falls with the right mindset to improve, to get better at this craft, to get more accustomed to the Miami Heat way and he embraced all of it, the coaching and he came back a different player.”
White’s first game in a Heat uniform coincided with the start of the 10-game winning streak Miami took into Monday’s game at Minnesota, the start of a four-game winning streak.
White was asked about being the good luck charm before Miami’s victory over Philadelphia on Saturday.
“It’s been a great experience to be with a great group of guys in the locker room, being able to be back with them since preseason and being able to go on a nine-game winning streak,” he said. “It’s been a blessing, and it’s been fun.”
Entering Monday, White has played in all but one game since being called up, averaging 4.1 points and 2.6 rebounds while shooting 48 percent (12 of 25) from the floor including 46.2 percent (6 of 13) on 3s.
And much of that has come in the fourth quarters of close games, like against defending champion Golden State and at Brooklyn where his corner 3 with just less than a minute remaining put the Heat up for good after Miami rallied from an 18-point four-quarter deficit.
“He’s going to be a very good shooter but that’s not the emphasis right now,” Spoelstra said. “Being a committed, effort, energy defender. He’ll have enough open shots, I would never tell him not to take an open shot because I think it’s a very good shooter. I don’t want the emphasis now to become, what’s his 3-point percentage.
White was asked what he has taken away from his three weeks with the team.
“You’ve got guys that care for each other in the locker room,” he said. “I think that directly correlates to the court.
“Guys had a rough beginning of the season and guys know that if you put the work in that eventually it’s going to reap the benefits of the work that’s been put in.”
Spoelstra said the emergence of forward James Johnson, “probably changed the landscape ” when it came to Williams.
“We want him now to find a place where he can be maximized,” Spoelstra said. “It didn’t work out exactly how we wanted it to.”
Williams, the second pick of the 2011 draft by the Timberwolves, used social media to express his appreciation to Pat Riley for the way he handled the situation saying the Heat president is a “man of his word.”
Williams appeared to have secured a spot in the rotation during the preseason where he started five games and averaged 9.5 points. But once the season began his playing time dwindled and soon he was out of the rotation.
Williams played in 25 games (11 starts) and averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds. He shot just under 40 percent from the floor and 20 percent on 3s. But prior to playing eight minutes Saturday, he played 48 seconds in the previous nine games and in the last 27 games he has not played 17 times because of a coach’s decision.
The Heat had the option of sending White back to Sioux Falls upon the conclusion of his second 10-day contract on Sunday (teams are not allowed to sign players to three 10-day contracts). But by doing so, Miami would have risked losing him, which is how they lost guard Briante Weber last week.
The Heat opted to promote White from the Skyforce over Weber three weeks ago, a decision they say was made more out of a positional need. Weber was among the cuts on the final day of camp and was the top rated D-League prospect.
But after being named the D-League’s Player of the Month early last week, Weber signed with the Warriors, citing the Heat’s overcrowded backcourt and the fact Miami had other chances to promote the guard but he remained in the D-League. He reportedly received offers from Miami and Charlotte.
White and Weber were named to the D-League All-Star team on Monday, as was Sioux Falls center Keith Benson. White and Weber are hoping to play in the, which will be Jan. 18 (NBA All-Star weekend) in New Orleans.
The Heat are back to 15 players on the roster including three who are expected to miss the rest of the season. Forward Chris Bosh has not been with the team all season because of recurring blood clot issues and is expected to be waived at some point before the end of the season. Forward Justise Winslow underwent surgery on Jan. 5 to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Forward Josh McRoberts is out indefinitely because of stress reaction in his left foot.
Additionally, guard Josh Richardson will miss his 16th game because of a foot strain. Richardson is traveling with the team for this trip and although he has not participated in contact drills, Spoelstra said that could be coming this week.