AP Photo/Winslow Townson

The incredible journey of Hassan Whiteside

23 Comments

BOSTON – When Hassan Whiteside declared for the 2010 NBA draft, he was considered a likely lottery pick.

Three years later, his reputation in the United States was in tatters. A failed two-season stint with the Kings seemingly confirmed the maturity concerns that pushed him to the second round coming out of Marshall. After all, if his physical tools – 7-foot with a 7-foot-7 wingspan and impressive leaping ability – couldn’t keep him in the league at age 23, what was wrong with him?

So, Whiteside went to Lebanon to play for “the only team that would take me.”

“I’ve always been NBA, NBA, NBA since I was little. So, it didn’t really change anything as far as,” Whiteside said, tapping his heart, “it went for me. But other people was probably like, ‘No way he’s going to get back there.’”

Not only is Whiteside back, he’s thriving.

Whiteside is averaging 9.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game for the Heat. Per 36 minutes, those numbers translate to 18.0 points, 15.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks.

His PER (28.0) ranks No. 2 in the NBA – sandwiched between Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant. Miami has brought Whiteside along slowly since signing him in November, sending him to the D-League and initially bringing him off the bench. But it’s time to question whether the the Heat discovered a true star hiding in plain sight.

Whiteside looks exactly like his best-case projections entering the draft, so this isn’t completely out of left field. It just took longer – and required overcoming more obstacles – than expected.

The NBA didn’t embrace him until now, but when was Whiteside ready to tear through the league as he has?

“You never know if you’re ready to swim unless you jump in the pool,” Whiteside said.

After his experience overseas, Whiteside jumped in with both feet.

Whiteside recalls seeing a man die in front of him following a car crash in Lebanon, the man’s son crying at his side. Whiteside still thinks about it, grateful for where he is now.

Another time, Whiteside had a scheduled physical interrupted because there was a car bomb earlier in the day near the Beirut hospital he planned to visit.

“It really put things in perspective,” Whiteside said. “It’s different watching it on the news and when it’s down the street.”

Or in the arena.

In Whiteside’s second Lebanese game, a fight in the stands interrupted the contest with players going in and out of the crowd.

“Where did I come?” Whiteside thought to himself. “I want to go back to America. This is crazy.”

You can watch the game – a big upset for Whiteside’s team – including the fight (29:20) and Whiteside’s postgame interview (1:34:30):

“You do some things when you’re chasing a dream,” Whiteside said. “You do some crazy things. I love basketball. So, that’s where basketball took me.”

It also took him to China, where as he put it, “your translator is basically everything to you.”

“If he’s lazy and he don’t want to help you, you’re going to struggle,” Whiteside said.

How was his?

“He had his good days and bad days,” Whiteside said. “I’d give him a C.”

Now, Whiteside cherishes these experiences, the two-year odyssey around the globe.

“It really made me who I am,” Whiteside said. “It’s really coming out to be a great journey for me.”

Whiteside said he never understood the criticism that ensnared him after he left Sacramento. He insists he “just got older. I’m the same person.”

For what it’s worth, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says nothing but good things about Whiteside’s work ethic so far.

“He embraced it,” Spoelstra said. “And I think it helped, his perspective and his experiences the last couple years. So, it was the convergence of a lot of good timings.”

Really, Whiteside can retroactively erase his old reputation by remaining a model NBA citizen in Miami. If he does, the Kings’ credibility will suffer, whether or not the criticism was fair at the time. Whiteside was too irrelevant then for most fans to remember his alleged thorniness now. They’ll just wonder how Sacramento ever let him go.

In the spotlight – his emergence dubbed Hassanity – Whiteside has an effective fresh start. Asked how he continues to stay hungry amid his recent success, Whiteside reveals a mindset that will effectively clear any demerits on his permanent record.

“So what whatever I did in the past,” Whiteside said. “Every day is a new day. I just really want to make people just remember my name.”

If he keeps this up, people will.

Whiteside is averaging 13.6 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game in the calendar year. Only Alonzo Mourning, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo – Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers – have hit those marks over a full season.

They each played more than 36 minutes per game. Whiteside is doing it in just 24.3 minutes per game.

And these aren’t empty numbers.

The Heat outscore opponents by 2.2 points per 100 possessions with Whiteside on the court and get outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions without him. None of the other dozen Miami players who’ve appeared in at least 20 games have such a positive influence:

image

 

Whiteside’s impact is particularly noticeable defensively.

Opponents are more selective about shooting in the paint – certainly due to Whiteside blocking shots at a per-minute rate the NBA hasn’t seen in a few years – but they’re not selective enough. Miami allows 57 percent shooting in the paint without Whiteside and 46 percent with him.

Whiteside is showing his offensive range, too. He has a soft touch to the point this shot, while exceptional, is not a huge outlier:

There’s still a segment that believes Whiteside is succeeding by catching teams off guard – that once they game plan for him, Hassanity will end.

“I mean, if they’re not putting me in their scouting report now,” Whiteside said, “thank you.”

To be fair, there is an element of surprise among Whiteside’s peers. Chris Bosh said he’d never even heard of Whiteside until his Heat workout.

Bosh said Whiteside “hasn’t done anything yet” and likes to remind the third-year player of it. Frequently.

“He doesn’t like talking to me all the time about that stuff,” Bosh said.

Is that true?

“Oh, nah man,” Whiteside said. “Chris Bosh is the man. He’s a 10-time All-Star. Anybody would want to take advice from him.”

Add Bosh to the list of people wrong about Whiteside.

Bosh doesn’t want to be in the group wrong about Whiteside’s next step, though. He’s pushing Whiteside – whose minimum salary for this season and next has been a huge bargain for the Heat – to earn a big contract.

“I’m demanding, I guess,” Bosh said. “It’s just because I see the potential that he has.”

Bosh is looking toward Whiteside’s future.

Spoelstra is focused on Whiteside’s present: “It’s hard not to root for somebody like that, but the most important thing now is to be able to sustain that. And the things we talk about are the work ethic and the program we have set every single day for him, and he’s been good about embracing the work.”

And Whiteside can’t stop thinking about his past.

“A lot of people like that story where somebody started from the bottom, and now they’re starting to see progress and success,” he said. “Because I feel like everybody can relate to that.

“Everybody got dreams of theirs. And people like to see other people succeed, even when it’s times in their lives that they struggled.”

Damian Lillard: Trail Blazers last team anyone wants to face in playoffs

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Western Conference could have its first playoff team with a losing record since expanding to 15 teams. The Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Grizzlies and Spurs are in the race for the No. 8 seed.

What if Portland reaches the postseason?

Trail Blazers:

Damian Lillard:

I’m pretty sure we’re the last team that anybody want to see.

This is probably true – relatively. Lillard is great and clutch. C.J. McCollum stepped up last postseason. Carmelo Anthony is widely respected by his peers. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins could return from injury by the playoffs and make Portland more dangerous than its record.

But the Trail Blazers would still be a No. 8 seed, likely with a losing record.

I’d rather see Portland as a playoff opponent than the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Jazz and Nuggets. Depending how everyone finishes, probably the Mavericks and Thunder, too.

There’s variance given the star power, players returning from injury and – going the other direction – underwhelming play throughout the season. But in the middle of outcomes, Portland looks like a fairly typical No. 8 seed. That’s not so imposing.

And that’s if the Trail Blazers even reach the postseason. With Lillard injured, it’ll be difficult to pass Memphis and fend off New Orleans and San Antonio.

Kevin Garnett: Celtics have culture of basketball, opposite of Timberwolves

Kevin Garnett in Celtics-Timberwolves
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Celtics are retiring Kevin Garnett’s number – a reasonable, though questionable, decision in historic Boston.

There’s a better case for the Timberwolves to retire Garnett’s number. And they want to. He just hasn’t been amenable.

It doesn’t sound as if his stance has softened.

Garnett, via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:

“Listen, I have some great years in Minny, but when comes to management, it’s not even close,” Garnett said. “Minny, they run their team one way. Boston has a culture of basketball. They run it a whole other way and I respect that.

Garnett’s feud with the Timberwolves – specifically owner Glen Taylor – stems from Flip Saunders’ untimely death. Since, Garnett has repeatedly taken shots at Minnesota.

Time heals most wounds, and I expect Garnett and the Timberwolves will eventually reconcile. Minnesota will surely retire his number someday.

But that day doesn’t appear near.

Report: Trail Blazers offered to trade expiring contracts to Cavaliers for Kevin Love

Kevin Love in Cavaliers-Trail Blazers
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kevin Love‘s trade value has proven divisive inside and outside Cleveland.

The Cavaliers reportedly wanted a first-round pick for the talented forward. Other teams reportedly wanted a first-round pick for taking on the 31-year-old who’s owed $91,459,342 over the following three seasons.

The Trail Blazers – long-rumored as a Love suitor – apparently tried to find common ground with Hassan Whiteside‘s and Kent Bazemore‘s expiring contracts.

Jason Lloyd of The Athletic:

Portland offered Bazemore and Whiteside, which essentially would’ve matched Kevin’s salary. But both of those are expiring contracts and the Cavs would’ve received no real assets in return.

Whiteside ($27,093,018 salary) and Bazemore ($19,269,662 salary) would not have worked for Love ($28,942,830). However, trading Whiteside straight up for Love would have.

So, why include Bazemore? So, the Trail Blazers would have gotten additional player(s) from the Cavs.

Without knowing which player(s), it’s impossible to fully evaluate this offer.

Maybe Portland was willing to take on a questionably valuable player like Larry Nance Jr. or Dante Exum. It’s possible Cleveland would prefer to unload either. But the Cavs seem content with those two.

More likely, the Trail Blazers wanted more value. Tristan Thompson, on an expiring contract himself, would have fit into a Love-for-Whiteside-and-Bazemore trade. Portland could have used Thompson at center with Whiteside outgoing and Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins sidelined.

If that was the offer – Whiteside and Bazemore for Love and Thompson – it’ll be interesting to see whether the Cavaliers will regret passing. Love isn’t helping the culture in Cleveland. The Cavs aren’t good enough to win with him and likely won’t be soon. He’s expensive and not getting any younger. And how much value will they get from Thompson? The optics of this move might have been poor after securing Love to a big contract extension and talking up Thompson as a leader. But front offices should often be braver than they are.

For the Trail Blazers, even if Love presents poor value, he can play. Portland is locked into a high payroll, regardless. This was an opportunity to upgrade in talent with less opportunity cost than most teams would suffer by adding Love.

Russell Westbrook gets ejected for jawing with Warriors bench (video)

Russell Westbrook in Rockets-Warriors
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Russell Westbrook‘s rivalry with the Warriors really escalated with Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder for Oklahoma City. Durant is now with the Nets, and Westbrook is now with the Rockets. But other Warriors said things about Westbrook that still linger.

Westbrook’s passion showed late in Houston’s 135-105 win over Golden State last night.

Westbrook elbowed Damion Lee while going for a rebound. Then, Westbrook and Warriors on the bench – including Klay Thompson – exchanged words. As he returned to the Rockets’ bench, Westbrook bumped into Looney. (Or Looney bumped into Westbrook, depending on your perspective.) Westbrook, who had a technical foul earlier in the game, received another and got ejected.

NBC Sports Bay Area:

Westbrook said he shouldn’t have been the only player to receive a technical foul. Without hearing everything said on the court, I can’t say either way. But, in an incident like that, it is surprising Golden State emerged unscathed.

Except for the loss.

Though even that isn’t so bad.