Storyline: Whiteside-Spoelstra Dynamic

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1 month ago via ESPN

Heat center Hassan Whiteside suggested a change in Miami’s offensive approach has affected his production in the playoffs. “It’s just different, man. I feel like our offense is a lot different. I’m not as involved in as many dribble handoffs as I was and post-ups as I was in the regular season,” Whiteside said after scoring five points in 13 minutes in Miami’s Game 3 loss to Philadelphia. “That’s what coach [Erik Spoelstra] wants. Coach wants me to just be in the corner and set picks. That’s what he wants. I’ve just got to trust it.”

Asked if he thought it was time to talk to the coaching staff, Heat President Pat Riley or General Manager Andy Elisburg, Whiteside said, “No. I don’t know if it is because of a minutes restriction or what. The minutes have been like that all year. It’s just really frustrating and it’s been frustrating. “It’s tough. I don’t know man, it’s crazy. I don’t understand it.” Asked if it has him questioning his future with the team, he said. “I don’t know, maybe.” Asked who he might take the issue up with, he said, “I don’t know​.”

With Hassan Whiteside not getting the minutes he believed he deserved, and the Heat dissatisfied at times with the uneven effort, it was clear — as recently as two weeks ago — that something needed to change with the Whiteside/Heat dynamic. Since the All-Star break, three things have changed for the better — one for everyone to see and two behind the scenes. What’s visible to everyone is that the Whiteside on display in three games since the break has been generally what the Heat wants — a fully engaged player displaying effort, passion and alertness on defense, along with the usual volume rebounding and blocks.

But here’s what happened behind the scenes: Whiteside said he met with Erik Spoelstra “right after the All-Star” break and Spoelstra showed an increased willingness to let him play through mistakes, which Whiteside very much appreciates. The upshot has been an increase in minutes… Whiteside has been on the court for meaningful fourth-quarter moments in both games. “Our communication, me and Spo, is better,” Whiteside told me Wednesday. “When I make a mistake, he’s not yanking me as fast. He’s letting me play through mistakes rather than taking me out so early.”

Asked if he could have played more in his return from illness, Whiteside said: “Uh, I can always play that many minutes. But coach went with the team that he wanted to get the win with and it’s coach’s decision. I can’t do nothing about that.” Asked if he thought he would have played more with Olynyk out, Whiteside said: “Maybe. Maybe. I mean, how long I know Spo? About four years. So I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know. It’s hard to predict. It’s hard to predict. It’s hard to gauge now a days.”

Hassan Whiteside’s nifty numbers were splendid, of course – the season highs in points (27) and blocks (six) to go with 13 rebounds. But you know what was more satisfying for Whiteside? The fact Erik Spoelstra allowed him to play late with the game on the line, and that Whiteside delivered. “I’m just glad coach allowed me to play [32] minutes,” Whiteside said. “He left me out there, he really trusted me tonight. I’m just really happy about that.”

“I definitely feel comfortable (guarding players on the perimeter),” Whiteside said. “I didn’t have to guard any shooting bigs. They put Robin Lopez in every time I came in, I guess for boxing out. So I don’t have no problem with it, but it’s up to Coach Spo.” Spoelstra was asked about his approach with Whiteside in the fourth quarter “It goes however it goes,” he said. “We didn’t get the job done. That’s the bottom line. We were in a hole. At that point, you got to make whatever decisions you can make to try to get back into the game. It looked like we were getting it back. We got it to six and then they made bigger plays down the stretch.”

Whiteside has averaged only 22.1 minutes per contest – and played no more than 29 in a game – since his return the day after Christmas. His diminished role, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime (where he’s played only 15 of a possible 72 minutes), has bothered him. But he’s swallowed his frustrations in part because the Heat has gone 5-1 since he’s been back. “As along as we’re winning,” the 7-footer responded Tuesday at shootaround when asked what his approach will be moving forward if he continues to sit on the bench in crunch time. “You know, we won. So as a player, of course you want to be out there. But we won the game, so I can’t really be mad at that. That’s what you’re out there to do anyway. You’re out there getting all them rebounds and blocks to win a game. So every point counts. We won by one point. Everybody’s points count.”
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May 27, 2018 | 11:15 pm EDT Update