NBA Rumor: Hassan Whiteside Free Agency

143 rumors in this storyline

Leading the pack, by far, is Hassan Whiteside. The big man reportedly has interest from Sacramento, who still has its full mid-level exception, but otherwise the league’s game of musical centers has mostly ended without him having a chair. A couple of other teams could use an extra center, notably Houston and Phoenix, but have just minimum or biannual exceptions remaining. And the team that should have signed him, Washington, opted for Robin Lopez (at $7.3 million!) instead. Aside from the Kings, one possibility to think about is Oklahoma City, which could sign him to a one-year deal and then trade him for – wait for it –more draft picks at the trade deadline. The Thunder could accomplish this with cap room or with their full mid-level exception, depending on how they manage the rest of their cap situation, but either way they can get to the right number.

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The Knicks are the other team with lots of cap space, but they seem set at the center spot with Mitchell Robinson, Nerlens Noel, and masquerading 4-man Julius Randle. New York could theoretically sign him anyway, with the same rationale as the Thunder above. Wherever Whiteside ends up, he’s likely to be a bargain. His shortcomings are well-documented, but the production still matters, and it’s elite. At a BORD$ value of $17.2 million, he’ll likely be paid barely half his estimated value.

In a decision that has been fully expected, center Hassan Whiteside intends to opt into the final season of his contract barring something completely unforeseen developing in the coming days, according to a league source. Whiteside stands to make $27.1 million next season and plans to inform the Heat in the days before the June 29 deadline. Once he formally opts in, the Heat will be about $4 million over the projected $132 million luxury tax threshold, factoring in Miami’s first-round draft pick and forward Ryan Anderson’s expected buyout.

Hassan Whiteside is on the verge of a decision he never thought he would have to make when he signed with the Miami Heat on July 1, 2016: Whether he values playing time more than money, in his case the $27 million he is due on his player option for next season. Facing a June deadline for his decision, Whiteside spoke candidly with the South Florida Sun Sentinel when the question was presented in advance of the Heat’s season finale Wednesday night at Barclays Center against the Brooklyn Nets. “You definitely want to have the money,” he said. “But you also want to play.”

“It’s a lot of money,” Whiteside said of what he would leave on the table by opting out, “but if play the minutes I want to play, I would be putting up what the other guys I would be put in the category with, where I would make more money. If I’m playing 30-plus minutes a game, I would make more money.” Whiteside, who turns 30 on June 13, said he appreciates the balancing act. “It’s definitely getting in the right situation,” he said. “You definitely want to have the money, but you don’t want to lose money and get in a situation you don’t want to be in.”

And unless something significant changes, it’s increasingly likely the Heat will need to wait until the summer of 2020, not 2019, to again be in position to make a franchise-altering free agent signing. That wasn’t necessarily the plan. The Heat has tried to move Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Johnson this offseason but has not found a trade market, according to three people in contact with the team. Dion Waiters’ name also has been raised, one of these people said.

Creating significant space next summer would take moving mountains, either trading at least two — likely three — significant contracts or hoping that Goran Dragic opts out of a $19.2 million payment for 2019-20 or Whiteside opts out of $27.1 million for that season. Dragic could opt out if he has a big season, though there’s a good chance he plays out this contract. It seems unlikely Whiteside opts out, unless he has an All-Star caliber season. Even if the Heat makes Whiteside miserable by further diminishing his playing time, it would seem improbable he walks away from that big a paycheck, according to a source.

Tim MacMahon: Even if Hassan Whiteside decided to pull a DeAndre Jordan, the Mavericks would not be an option, according to a source. The Mavs made Whiteside a max offer in the opening hours of free agency but have moved on. Dallas would have to back out of several commitments to create cap space for Whiteside, including the trade to acquire center Andrew Bogut from the Warriors. Two of the Mavs’ main free-agent commitments – Harrison Barnes and Deron Williams – are represented by Excel Sports Management, the same agency as Whiteside.

He met with Heat president Pat Riley a couple of weeks ago and might meet again with Heat officials sometime over the next two days, possibly in New York, where Pat Riley will be to meet with Kevin Durant on Sunday. One person who spoke to the Heat said there is growing sentiment internally to offer him a max deal (if Miami doesn’t get Kevin Durant), even though some inside the Heat do not view him as a max player. But that is not definite and the Heat has been going back and forth on this. The Heat has told Whiteside it’s very interested in keeping him but has a lot of moving parts to navigate through.

With rim protection and perimeter shooting ranking as the Lakers’ foremost areas of concern heading into the open market, sources told ESPN.com that Whiteside has emerged a priority target for L.A. The Lakers, like the Heat, are still hopeful of securing a face-to-face recruiting meeting with Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant once free agency season commences at 12:01 a.m. on July 1. But the Lakers, sources say, are highly intrigued by Whiteside and what he could bring them as a double-double presence inside.

The Mavs, according to sources, remain interested in keeping Parsons if they aren’t able to persuade Conley and/or Whiteside to come to Dallas. However, the Mavs have made it clear to Parsons that they do not intend to offer him a max contract to keep him after his first two seasons in Dallas ended prematurely because of surgeries on his right knee. A max contract for Parsons with the Mavs, who own his early Bird rights, would be worth $98.4 million over four years. Other teams can offer him $94.1 million over four years.

The Dallas Mavericks have emerged as a serious suitor for Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who becomes a free agent on July 1. ESPN Dallas reported on Thursday that Dallas expects to be granted a meeting with Whiteside in the opening hours of free agency. A friend of Whiteside did not dispute that report and said Whiteside, through back-channels, is generating considerable interest around the league. ESPN identified Portland as another team expected to seriously pursue Whiteside. That friend said Whiteside prefers to stay with the Heat if all things are equal financially.

Though the Heat ideally would prefer to re-sign Hassan Whiteside at something less than a max deal (but ultimately might need to offer that), a competing and respected NBA general manager explained to me recently why it would be short-sighted for Miami to risk losing him over a few million dollars a year, why it’s easy to justify a max deal for Whiteside (starting at a projected $21.6 million) and why he’s going to be offered that by multiple teams. The GM, who cannot be named because of NBA tampering rules, listed four reasons: Where else, he said, are you going to find a player so skilled at deterring shots (Whiteside’s blocked shots average was the league’s highest in 15 years), at rebounding (fourth in the league) and with a developing offensive game where he’s now seen as a player who could average between 15 to 18 points a game? There’s nobody else remotely like that in this free agent class, the GM said.

But we’ve repeatedly heard the Heat’s preference is persuading him to sign under the max (projected to be $21.6 million next season) by selling him on the lack of state income tax, his comfort level here, the roster flexibility created by him taking a bit less; and that Miami can offer 7.5 percent annual raises off the first year salary (compared with 4.5 percent elsewhere). That means a four-year deal starting at $20.7 million with Miami would equal a four-year deal starting at $21.6 million elsewhere.

Whiteside averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks this season, but in 36 minutes — closer to what all the others played — he recorded 17.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 4.6 blocks. He also progressed with screen-setting and free-throw shooting. “I think he wants to be part of a winner,” Riley said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt his next level is to, along with others, carry. He’s got to carry … a load, almost every night. That will allow you to win. And be a contender. And I think he can do that.”

“I don’t think he’s even reached his real ceiling in a couple of areas of the game,” Riley said. “And I think that now he’ll be more comfortable once his situation ends. When a player spends six years of his career having everybody tell him why he’s not good enough to be in the NBA … I think when he gets an opportunity, what young players try to do first is, ‘I’m going to show you I’m good enough to play in the NBA.’ … [And what] could be individually important might not be as good for the team. But once that’s out of the way, I think the roof is the ceiling.”

Now, the 26-year-old is set to become one of this summer’s most sought-after free agents, and as an All-Star caliber player likely in line to receive max contract offers elsewhere, Heat president Pat Riley says the team plans to keep the 7-foot shot-blocking aficionado around for the long haul. “He’s obviously, I think, our No. 1 priority. Period. You don’t have to look further than that,” Riley said. “While there might be players out there in free agency, our No. 1 priority is Hassan Whiteside. He’s 26 years old. He’s a game changer. I don’t think he’s even reached his real ceiling in a couple areas of the game …”
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