In the summer of 2016, the Miami Heat had a major decision to make.
Center Hassan Whiteside was coming off of a breakout season, averaging a double-double with 14.2 points and 11.8 rebounds along with an incredible 3.7 blocks in just 29.1 minutes over 73 games. Set to become an unrestricted free agent, the choice was simple: sign him to a max deal or let him walk.
The Heat elected to give him the big money, inking him to a four-year, $98,419,538 contract. He proved his worth last year after signing the deal, averaging career-highs in points (17.0), rebounds (14.1) and minutes (32.6) per game in 77 contests.
As a former 2010 second-round pick, Whiteside spent his first two seasons within the Sacramento Kings franchise, playing a minimal role before heading to multiple D-League teams in different stints over the next couple years. He then took his talents overseas, playing in China, Lebanon and back in China again before returning stateside, where he was signed and waived twice by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2014.
After being called up to the Sioux Falls Skyforce (G-League affiliate of the Heat) two games into the 2014-2015 season, he never looked back, posting a double-double against the Brooklyn Nets.
Not only has Whiteside become one of the best centers in the entire NBA since then, but the 28-year-old has become a personality off of the court as well. He is a must-follow on social media, as evidenced by his hilarious twitter beef with Joel Embiid earlier this season.
But, unfortunately, immaturity has also been a major part of his story, dating back to the beginning of his resurrection with the Heat. Here's what then-teammate Dwyane Wade had to say about him back in March of 2015 after Whiteside committed a boneheaded flagrant foul against Boston Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk.
"He's had enough veteran advice," Wade told reporters, per Chris Wiatyngham of 104.3 The Ticket. "There comes a time when you have to do it yourself. There's only so many words people can continue to say to you. You gotta do it. Not for you, you gotta do it for the other guys in here that you see sacrificing. That you see out there playing hurt and all the things that are going on. You're part of a team. You're part of an organization."
He added, "We all have our moments, selfish moments. But you can't continue to keep having them, because you gotta be reliable and you gotta be able to be counted on. And right now, if he continues to act that way then he's not reliable."
That was the second time in five games that Whiteside was ejected. Since then, he has struggled to keep his emotions in check and has, at times, appeared to mentally check out during games. In February of 2016, he was ejected and sent home by the team after he violently swung his elbow at San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic as they battled for a rebound.
So far this season, Whiteside is averaging 15.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 26.8 minutes per game, but he's coming off a three-point, six-rebound performance in a loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. Not only did he go just 1-for-9 shooting, but he also was benched for almost the entirety of the second half after a boneheaded mistake irked head coach Erik Spoelstra.
Spoelstra called Whiteside to the bench right after he allowed Warriors center Zaza Pachulia to shoot an uncontested layup while he was busy arguing with an official.
That led Heat captains Goran Tragic, James Johnson and Udonis Haslem to have a sit-down conversation with him after the game.
"I guess [Spoelstra] thought it was better if I didn't come back in," Whiteside told reporters after the game, per the Miami Herald. "I don't know. I really don't know."
“Coach, playing me 16 minutes, I guess that’s what he wanted me to play. … Last game, I played 31 minutes. I thought I played great [Sunday versus the Clippers]. Today, I played 16 minutes. So I really don’t know what I’m going to play [Wednesday] in Phoenix," he said.
It doesn't sound like an ounce of remorse was shown.
Johnson was quick to point out that minutes are earned. Therefore, if mental mistakes are made and if the effort or energy level is low for any player, they are not immune from getting benched.
"Minutes is earned, man. Minutes is earned on this team," Johnson said, according to the Miami Herald. "We had our talk as we should as a team, and as the three captains that we are. And he gets it. I know he gets it. He's the most athletic guy I know. He's the heart of our team, and he's also the best big man in the league to me."
It was the second half of a back-to-back for the Heat, but Haslem pointed out that there shouldn't be any excuses.
"On the second night of a back-to-back, man, sometimes your body is not going to have it," Haslem said. "That's when you got to have it with your mind. I preach to these guys 48 minutes of mentally stable basketball and not be mental midgets. That's just something we got to continue to work on."
Haslem did seem to lay off criticizing Whiteside, at least to the media.
"We're not disappointed, man. It's not supposed to be easy," he explained. "None of this is supposed to be easy. ... [Whiteside] is still learning, he's still growing, he's still understanding what we expect from him. Every night you're not going to have it in this league. So what we just need from Hassan is his energy. We feed off that and he's our best player. We're going to live and die with him."
At what point should Whiteside be expected to behave like a professional?
He has never strayed away from publicly criticizing opposing players, complaining to the media about his public perception (especially around All-Star voting time) and has repeatedly proven to be what Haslem warned about: a mental midget.
On the court, it's obvious that opposing players can easily get under his skin. A few times, that frustration has boiled over into technical and flagrant fouls. But most importantly, his inability to keep a level head has been a detriment to not only his personal success, but the success of the team as a whole.
On Monday, he looked uninterested and disengaged with his teammates from the opening tip. Not only is Whiteside the highest-paid player on his team, but he's the most skilled. Therefore, seeing him repeat the same immature behavior over and over again must be terribly frustrating to Heat fans and the organization as a whole.
It would be different if Whiteside was a rookie or second-year player. But, with a number of years of professional experience under his belt, he should know better by now. It's time to grow up. It all starts with making a concerted effort. If he does, his perception will be altered and he will make his teammates and his franchise proud.
Until then, he will continue to be an ultra-talented ticking time bomb who is capable of either posting a 20-20 stat line or mentally checking out on any given night.