Hassan Whiteside was available to the Miami Heat in the 2010 NBA draft. They didn’t take him, opting instead for another center who has turned out to be Whiteside’s polar opposite in terms of career development.
You remember Dexter Pittman? He was a 6-foot-11 sledgehammer of a center coming out of Texas when Miami took him with the 32nd overall pick in 2010.
No one doubted that he had the discipline needed to train his body and improve his skills to NBA standards. Already, Pittman had dropped an incredible 95 pounds from his high-school playing weight of 388. It happened over four years of grueling personal workouts in college, and it steadily transformed Pittman from a bench-warming freshman to a senior starter in the fast-paced Big 12 Conference.
The Heat, however, could lift him no higher. He played very little for Miami, and soon Pittman was bouncing around the league for short stints with other teams, and then to the D-League and China and Turkey and Italy and finally a professional league in Puerto Rico, where he’s stuck today.
Now turn that whole basket of maybe’s and near misses upside down and you’ve got Whiteside.
Hassan was drafted by Sacramento with the 33rd pick in 2010, the spot immediately after Miami took Pittman. He played basketball at five different high schools and then, after leading the nation in blocked shots as a Marshall freshman, Whiteside declared himself eligible for the NBA draft, believing he was ready to be the next Hakeem Olajuwon.
Confidence has never been a problem for this guy, but self-discipline and maturity have. There’s no other reason for a 7-footer with these skills to slip through the cracks. That’s exactly what Whiteside did, and fast, playing just 19 games for the Kings before taking off on a wild ride through the D-League and then to pro leagues in China and Lebanon. Only when Miami picked him up on a D-League contract in November of 2014 did Whiteside’s career begin to take off.
Was there any way to know for certain all those years ago which of these two players, Pittman or Whiteside, would find an instant home in the NBA, and which of them would be sifting through maximum contract offers from multiple suitors once the 2016 free-agency period begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday?
Pat Riley, of all people, whiffed on that question. Even now, with the correct answer confirmed, he must be wondering exactly what to make of Whiteside, who says that loyalty to the Heat is not a heavy factor.
Oh, sure, Riley’s saying all the right things. In a postseason press conference, he identified Whiteside as the Heat’s No. 1 free-agent priority. That’s with Dwyane Wade still to be locked up for another season and with four-time NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant also in play.
The problem with Whiteside, however, is convincing him of the work that is necessary to belong in a group like that. Letting frustration get him in foul trouble, getting suspended for throwing elbows, blowing up the Heat’s team defense concept through lack of concentration, all these have contributed to suspicions that Whiteside’s production may fall off once the big money is his.