The Miami Heat are considering moving talented but enigmatic center Hassan Whiteside before Thursday's trade deadline and had discussions with the Houston Rockets about a trade that would bring them back Dwight Howard, according to the New York Daily News' Frank Isola.
Whiteside, the 26-year-old former journeyman center who emerged last season with the Heat after spending years toiling in the D-League, Lebanon and China, is averaging 12.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and a league-high 3.9 blocks per game for the 29-24 Heat. Miami is in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. However, just 4.5 games separate the ninth-place Pistons and third-place Celtics in the jumbled East.
While Whiteside's numbers are impressive, he hasn't always gelled with the Heat's roster and coaching staff. Curiously, Miami plays better defense when Whiteside sits, and Whiteside has spent a number of fourth quarters on the bench this season.
Whiteside will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and due to his small salary ($981,000) and short contract the Heat must use cap space to re-sign him. Miami has also made it clear that it would like to pursue free agent Kevin Durant this offseason and also has to worry about Dwyane Wade's future.
It should also be noted in relation to the Whiteside-for-Howard rumor that such a deal would take some creative cap maneuvering. Howard is making just over $22 million this season; in order to bring him into the fold, the Heat would have to include another $20 million in salary. That would mean players like Luol Deng ($10.2 million), Chris Andersen ($5 million) and Josh McRoberts ($5.5 million) going to Houston, or a third team getting involved.
Like Whiteside, Howard can also opt out of his deal this summer, though the Heat would be able to go over the cap to re-sign him.
Why trading Whiteside makes sense for the Heat
Since Whiteside broke out last season, the organization has made it clear that it finds his occasional antics and attitude frustrating. The Heat have, for the most part, been able to keep most of the details under wraps. But there's a reason that Whiteside, despite being an athletic seven-footer, had trouble making it in the NBA in the first place.
"Hassan Whiteside, for lack of a better word, was a jackass when he came out of college," said ESPN analyst Amin Elhassan, a former assistant director of basketball operations for the Phoenix Suns, in a radio interview last January. "He was delusional and would say things that were not commensurate with how great he was as a player."
Whiteside has since figured things out on the court, but the Heat have seemingly gone out of their way to keep him from becoming too impressed with his own accomplishments. There have also been not-so-subtle shots from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
All that's to say: it seems unlikely the Heat re-sign Whiteside in the offseason, which leaves Miami with a few options. The team can play out the year as presently constituted, hoping to emerge from the pack in a weak Eastern Conference and challenge the Cavaliers in the Conference Finals. They can move Whiteside now and recoup some long-term assets in return. Or, they could try to flip Whiteside for another rental, such as Howard, in the hope that doing so would put them in better position to contend now. Howard also carries Bird Rights, which means having him on the roster now would give the Heat a leg-up in re-signing him over the summer.
It's unlikely that this current group emerges as a legitimate championship contender. With that being the case, moving Whiteside to either boost the team's future or improve the roster now makes sense.
Why trading Whiteside doesn't make sense for the Heat
Because he'd be a rental, it's hard to see any team giving up anything of real value in order to get Whiteside, not when they could sign him in the offseason. The Houston trade is interesting, but it just doesn't seem feasible.
If the Heat have already decided that they have no interest in re-signing Whiteside in the summer then trading him makes a ton of sense. But the Heat haven't made up their minds yet. Every team in the league is on the constant lookout for a talented center, and in Whiteside the Heat stumbled onto one. He might not have the ideal attitude, but that doesn't mean they should turn their back on all that talent.
Miami would be best served using the next three months as a last chance to evaluate Whiteside and gather all the information the team possibly can. What the Heat decide to do with him this offseason could impact the franchise for years to come. There's no reason to rush into a decision now.
Likelihood of Whiteside being traded (3/10)
Whiteside's measly salary and impressive talent make him a tough trade match. Lots of teams are likely calling the Heat. Few, however, can offer Pat Riley a package truly worth considering given the salary and free agent complications.
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