Pat Riley says re-signing Hassan Whiteside is the Miami Heat's top priority

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The Miami Heat's season came to an abrupt end after they were beaten in seven games by the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.   

The franchise is now heading into one of their most important offseasons with crucial decisions to be made regarding existing players and potential free agent recruits. 

Miami's biggest move this summer will undoubtedly involve center Hassan Whiteside who is an unrestricted free agent. 

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The big man had a career-best year averaging 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and a league-leading 3.7 blocks per game. He is likely to command strong interest on the open market as one of the top free agents and will be seeking a max contract due to the spike in the salary cap. 

With health concerns plaguing Chris Bosh and long-time Heat favourite Dwyane Wade also becoming a free agent - though he wants to come back - it will be a busy period in South Beach.

President Pat Riley, though, says retaining Whiteside is the team's main priority.

"He's a game-changer," Riley said. "I don't even think he's reached his real ceiling."

Riley's desire to keep Whiteside doesn't come as a huge surprise as he was the team's defensive lynchpin - evidenced by leading the league in blocked shots and finishing third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting. 

The 26-year-old went down with an MCL sprain in game three against the Raptors and missed the rest of the series, which resulted in his team being eliminated in the postseason.

The shot blocker's presence could certainly have made a difference as Toronto had more confidence driving through the lane in his absence. 

"Your offence is only as good as what you do at the defensive end," Riley said. "You want to explode out of there? Then you better make some stops, you better rebound the ball. And that's why Hassan is so important to us in a lot of ways.

"He'll block shots, he'll rebound the ball, he'll change 10 other shots, he'll scare the hell out of about four or five other people coming into the paint and he's got some intangibles that simply you just can't find."

As soon as the Whiteside situation becomes clear on July 1, whether he re-signs with the Heat or not, the organisation will turn its attentions to Bosh, who has not taken to the floor since before the All-Star break with a recurrence of a blood clot issue.

The two parties are still exploring every possibility and procedure to allow him to return to the court in a Miami uniform next season. The 32-year-old has missed 81 games in the last two campaigns. 

"All of us, not just the Heat but the doctors and also Chris are looking to proceed forward to find a way to get him back on the court," Riley said. "I think that's all we can say right now. We are very encouraged by trying to find a way over the next two or three months to find a protocol and a program that will get him back playing.

"That's always been our objective. We're in this together. So right now, that's where we are. It's an X-factor when it comes to everything we plan on doing this summer. But first things first, and that's to sidle up alongside of Chris Bosh and see where we can go right to the end with this."

The decisions the Southeast Division franchise take this summer will determine their immediate future and all eyes will be on Miami to see what Riley and the front office will do. 

Miami Heat
Southeast Division
Eastern Conference
Dwyane Wade
Chris Bosh
Hassan Whiteside

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