All season long, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has made one thing very clear: his players have to earn playing time.
Despite the fact that center Hassan Whiteside is the highest-paid active player on the club by a long shot, he has seen his minutes take a massive dip this year.
Although he missed 28 regular-season games due to a nagging knee injury, Whiteside averaged 25.3 minutes per contest, down from 32.6 the season before.
Injuries played a part in that. But, so did the addition of versatile big man Kelly Olynyk in free agency as well as rookie Bam Adebayo from the 2017 Draft. Both of those players have different skill sets than Whiteside, which allows Spoelstra to mix and match at will.
Recently, Whiteside blew up in front of reporters following a loss to the Brooklyn Nets. He was benched in that game despite performing well. It seemed as though his season-long frustration boiled over.
“Man, it’s annoying. Why we matching up?,” Whiteside said after the March loss. “We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength. It’s bull—-. It’s really bull—-, man. There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. [Expletive]. That’s bull—-.”
After he was fined by the team and the organization decided to move past the incident with him, Whiteside appears to have learned from his initial mistake.
In a blowout 130-103 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series, Whiteside only received 12 minutes of playing time. In that time, he went 1-of-4 from the floor for two points and added six rebounds, an assist and two blocks with a plus-minus of negative-16. Even though Joel Embiid missed the game for the Sixers, Whiteside failed to capitalize during his limited minutes and was therefore benched for Olynyk, who dropped 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting in 31 minutes. Adebayo also played 21 minutes, but some of that time could be attributed to the blowout game script.
Nonetheless, all eyes were on Whiteside after the game. How would he respond?
“I think coach wanted some change. K.O. was playing well,” Whiteside said, per Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post. “Of course, I would love to be out there rebounding and blocking shots and be out there with my teammates. But I think K.O. was playing well so coach just wanted to get him out there.”
“He just wanted to change it up,” Whiteside said. “I trust coach. I trust his decision-making. We didn’t get this one. They shot amazing from the field. We didn’t get this one, but we move to Game 2.”
Therefore, it was a much more professional response this time around.
“It’s not about him,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside after the game. “The whole second half, this series and this game, it’s going to go quickly. There’s a lot of subs both ways. There’s not a lot of time based on the flow or the matchups. It’s not necessarily an indictment to his first four minutes [of the second half]. But we all have to be collectively better on Monday.”
Perhaps more than any other coach in the league, Spoelstra tends to match up with opposing teams in terms of size and mobility. Until Embiid returns, Whiteside could see decreased playing time, unless he excels in his early opportunities.
That’s exactly what Dwyane Wade indicated to him and challenged him to do in Game 2.
“I had a conversion with him on the sideline,” Wade explained. “‘The biggest thing is telling him, ‘Man, listen, control what you can control.’ When you’re out on the court, that’s what you control, your minutes out there. So, you know, it’s not easy for anyone to not play the minutes that they want to play. Period. It’s hard on guys. But Game 1 is over. Come back in Game 2 and be a different player, dominate different and you won’t come out.”
We will see if Wade’s words of wisdom get through to Whiteside on Monday.
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