Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant is set to become a free agent after this season, and with the Thunder’s championship window practically shut (thanks to the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Cleveland Cavaliers continued dominance), it’s hard to picture Durant sticking around much longer.
So, with the looming possibility of Durant doing his best LeBron James impersonation and taking his talents to South Beach, the Miami Heat are looking to clear some space for him—by trading away impending free agent and emerging superstar Hassan Whiteside.
Or at least, I assume they’re attempting to make a run at some big name on the market; I can’t think of any other reason to oust Whiteside right now.
Everyone has heard Hassan’s story at this point, the underdog who didn’t make it in the NBA, took a career detour to the D-League, and then came back to establish himself as one of the top defensive players in the NBA. With 12.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.9 blocks per game, Whiteside is the rim protector that coaches would kill for.
But with great power comes great pay, and with $40 million already tied up between Chris Bosh and Goran Dragic alone, the Heat will be in a tough financial spot with Whiteside this offseason. No doubt the big man will be asking for a max contract, and as an unrestricted free agent who could certainly get it elsewhere, the Heat don’t have much ground to stand on in the talks.
Of course, if the Heat were to max-out Whiteside, that would significantly lower their chances of landing Durant. This isn’t the MLB; they have to operate under some monetary restrictions.
But let’s forget about Durant for a minute. Let’s be honest, all 30 teams would be willing to sign the All-Star, and the Heat don’t necessarily have any better of a chance than the Thunder, Washington Wizards, or Los Angeles Lakers.
So with Durant out of the picture (by our previous assumption), Whiteside gets to stay, right?
Ehh. You see the Heat haven’t exactly been a powerhouse since LeBron James packed his things and moved back to Cleveland. Bosh and Dwayne Wade have been doing their best, but the Heat just don’t have enough to make a splash right now. In fact, Miami’s offensive efficiency ranks 22nd in the league, mainly because they’re fourth-to-last in made threes per game with just over six. Steph Curry calls that an off night.
Speaking of Steph Curry, his Warriors continue to dominate team after team with their infamous small-ball lineup, unmatched three-shooting, and speed. No offense to Whiteside, but he doesn’t exactly fit the bill. Timofey Mozgov is, supposedly, facing the same criticism from the Cleveland Cavaliers after being embarrassed in the Cavs’ blowout loss to the Warriors.
“I wonder,” said Whiteside when asked where he would be right now had he been playing in the era of the game ruled by big men and physical play. “But that wasn’t the era I was born in. It would’ve been a little different. Just different things, like guys try to say that blocking shots is not defense. That’s shocking to me. Different things, some of the crazy numbers they come up with.”
Unfortunately, that’s the times we live in, Hassan. And like it or not, the Heat do not currently have the keys to success. They can, however, make a last-ditch effort to regain some championship glamour by trading away Whiteside for a hefty price and using the money saved to sign one superstar or multiple shooters.
The Heat have a lot of competition for Durant with the Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans, and Brooklyn Nets also in the conversation, but we’ve all seen crazier things in the NBA. It’s just sad that in the best season of his life, Whiteside is on the trade block solely because of a league-wide shift away from dominant big men.