MIAMI — A day after Hassan Whiteside was fined an undisclosed amount of money for “comments detrimental to the team,” the Heat’s starting center tried to explain what pushed him over the edge following Saturday’s overtime loss to the Nets.
“I was just frustrated, man,” Whiteside said after Monday’s practice. “I was frustrated that we lost. I really wanted to get that game.”
Does Whiteside regret anything he said?
“Yeah, because I could have handled it different,” he said. “But I got so caught up in wanting to get that win. I get real competitive. I really want to be out there. But I just trust coach’s decision.”
This latest storyline comes in the middle of a tight playoff race, as the Heat (41-36) can clinch a spot in the postseason with a home win over the Hawks (22-55) on Tuesday. With five regular-season games remaining, Miami’s magic number (combined number of wins and Pistons losses it needs to clinch) is one.
Coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday that Whiteside used “poor timing, poor judgement” in his postgame interview.
“It’s not the first time a player has gone through frustration right after a game,” said Spoelstra, who met with Whiteside one-on-one after his comments Saturday. “That’s why I’ve always said after the game, guys should just take a shower, cool off, maybe do a little bit of media and then really have a better, coherent response to whatever happened during the course of the game the next day — all of us.
“But, we’re here to help Hassan. He’s going to be just fine. We’re going to help him continue to learn how to be a better professional, how to be a better leader in this locker room, how to be a better teammate and ultimately how to be a better winner.”
The biggest mistake Whiteside made was expressing his frustration to the media.
“We have a great locker room, a great group of guys who understand that,” Spoelstra said. “It doesn’t mean that guys don’t feel emotions from time to time. If guys want to throw a few eggs at my car after the game or teepee my house, that’s actually a better way to deal with it than speaking to all of you about their frustrations. I want guys that want to be out there. I want competitors that want to be in the game and have an opportunity to express themselves and help the team.”
The comments in question came after Saturday’s loss, when Whiteside finished with 14 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes.
“Man, it’s annoying. We got one of the best centers in the league,” he said following the game. “Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bull—-. It’s really bull—-, man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. [Expletive]. That’s bull—-.”
Whiteside, who has played in two games since returning from a strained left hip flexor, then questioned his future with the organization before a member of the Heat media-relations staff ended the interview.
When asked Monday if he stands by his comments regarding an uncertain future in Miami, Whiteside didn’t necessarily back down from the statement he made.
“Nobody ever knows their future,” he said. “There’s nothing guaranteed except death. I don’t know. You never know. It’s a business at the end of the day. Right now, I definitely would like to be here. But the Heat make all the decisions.”
Whiteside’s anger Saturday stemmed from Spoelstra’s decision to use a small lineup down the stretch. Whiteside was subbed out of the game with 3:55 remaining in the third quarter and never returned, as Spoelstra turned to a small lineup that featured James Johnson at center to match up with Brooklyn’s personnel.
The 28-year-old Whiteside is in the second season of a four-year, $98 million contract that he signed as a free agent in 2016. He’s due $25.4 million next year and has a player option for $27.1 million in 2019-20.
Whiteside is making $23.8 million this season, tied with Andre Drummond, Anthony Davis and Bradley Beal for the 19th highest salary in the league.
But despite being the highest paid player on the Heat’s roster, Whiteside’s playing time has been cut. He’s averaging 25.6 minutes of playing time this season after logging a career-high 32.6 minutes last season.
“There’s a lot of things going on in games and sometimes as players we don’t see it,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We just want to be on the floor and sometimes that frustration builds up in us as players. When I came back all everyone talked about was that every one was all in as a team and not worried about who’s going to be the leading scorer, who’s going to take the most shots. We weren’t worried about that from night to night. And once you put your hand in and say you’re all in, you’re all in.”
Diminished played time and injuries have made this a frustrating season for Whiteside, though.
After selecting Bam Adebayo with the 14th overall pick of last year’s draft and signing Kelly Olynyk in free agency last offseason, Whiteside has found himself on a roster that features three centers battling for playing time. Adebayo is averaging 20.1 minutes and Olynyk is averaging 23.6 minutes, but both are averaging more fourth-quarter minutes than Whiteside.
In addition, Whiteside has sat out the entire fourth quarter in 20 of his 49 games. He played in the fourth in 71 of his 77 games last season.
“You want to have a deep team,” Wade said when asked about the Heat’s crowded depth chart. “You want to be on a deep team. You never know what’s going to happen. Two years ago, we had injuries in the playoffs. Hassan went down. We didn’t have Chris [Bosh] at that time. It hurt at the time. So now we’re better equipped. One man goes down, next man steps up. Coaches decide who plays. If you play, try to do your job to the best of your ability and that’s all you’ve got to do.”
Whiteside is averaging 14.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks this season. He’s missed 28 games due to multiple issues — 18 because of two separate bone bruises on his left knee, one because of a stomach illness and nine with his recent hip injury.
Miami has posted a 14-14 record without Whiteside and a 27-22 record when he plays. His plus-minus numbers aren’t as good, as the Heat have been outscored by 79 points when Whiteside is on the court this season (second-worst plus-minus on the team ahead of only Dion Waiters).
But the Heat know they will need Whiteside, especially in the playoffs when the game slows down.
“When he’s engaged and into it and wants to do what Hassan does, he’s one of the most dominant centers in our game,” Wade said. “No one does it with blocks, triple-doubles with blocks. You can’t do it every game, but there’s some nights where you see it that he’s in beast mode. But there’s some nights as players where you just go through the motions. And that’s all of us as players. When he puts his mind to the game and he wants to go out and dominate, it’s hard for people to go to the levels that a big guy like that can go to.”
With the start of the postseason just two weeks away, the Heat are hoping to put this issue in the past as fast as possible.
“There’s no carryover,” Spoelstra said. “What Hassan said after the game has no effect on anybody in the locker room. Hassan is still one of our brothers. Nobody is perfect. It did not have any lingering effect on anybody. We’re all here to help him just like the next guy when somebody struggles with something. We’re here to help them, as well.
“It has nothing to do with the role. He knows exactly what’s expected of him as he continues to get back in shape. He knows what I want out of him and what his teammates want out of him. He’ll continue to work to get into better shape. We’ll get him back where he was before he got hurt about three and a half weeks ago.”