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Picture imperfect: Heat fine Hassan Whiteside, may be at crossroad

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside, left, grabs a defensive rebound in front of Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Miami. (Joel Auerbach / Associated Press)
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside, left, grabs a defensive rebound in front of Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Miami. (Joel Auerbach / Associated Press)

MIAMI – Monday is the day that the Miami Heat will gather for the annual team picture. They’re always set up the same way: coaches sitting in the middle of the front row, the team’s shorter players sitting on either side of Erik Spoelstra and his assistants, support staff and taller players standing in the back.

Some smiles might be forced.

The Heat are dealing with a 7-foot problem, at the wrong time of year. Center Hassan Whiteside was fined an undisclosed amount Sunday for “comments detrimental to the team” – a response to his remarks expressing frustration with his role. He went on an expletive-laden tirade after Miami’s 110-109 overtime loss Saturday to the Brooklyn Nets, when the Heat missed a chance to clinch a playoff spot, saying he should play more and might be better elsewhere.

The team had no additional comment Sunday. They resume practice Monday, when Whiteside’s words will be a hot topic again.

“Man, it’s annoying, you know. Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league,” Whiteside said Saturday night. “Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center.”

Whiteside didn’t play in the final 21 minutes on Saturday – the last four of the third quarter, then all of the fourth quarter and overtime. The Nets went small, so the Heat went small. It’s not an uncommon strategy, and Whiteside is only a few days removed from a nine-game absence for what was called hip pain.

Plus, he asked to be subbed out Saturday four minutes after tipoff, a sign that his conditioning isn’t optimal yet. The whole night was a dichotomy, with Whiteside first asking not to play, then complaining he didn’t play enough.

“He had some good moments and then they went to the smaller lineup,” Spoelstra said. “Their speed got to our size.”

The Nets are a major matchup problem for Miami. Brooklyn will finish well out of the playoff race, and went 3-1 against the Heat this season. The end of the game was frustrating for the Heat, who felt calls didn’t go their way. And Spoelstra lamented a timeout during a wild scramble with about 5 seconds left, a whistle he got moments before James Johnson made a shot that would have put Miami ahead.

Then Whiteside spoke at his locker, and a bad night got worse.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m on a minutes restriction or what,” Whiteside said. “But the minutes have been like that all year. It’s just really frustrating and it’s been frustrating.”

He has immense talent, which is why Miami – which took him off the NBA scrap heap and watched him become a star – gave him a four-year deal that could be worth $98 million if he doesn’t opt out after next season. Whiteside led the league in blocked shots two seasons ago, then led it in rebounding last season.

He’s had great moments: a tip-in at the buzzer with an injured hand to beat Detroit last season, four triple-doubles, 15 consecutive double-doubles late last season when the Heat were trying to make the playoffs.

He also has a befuddling side.

The Heat sent him home two years ago after an ejection against San Antonio, a night when Dwyane Wade said “sometimes, we don’t know what he is thinking.” Whiteside has lauded himself for putting up good numbers in games where the Heat lose, which isn’t the best look. He’s had three stints out of the lineup this season for injuries, two for bone bruises in his knee and the most recent one for the hip issue.

Miami preaches team over everything. Wade is Heat royalty; he’s back now but doesn’t start, and usually isn’t even the first guy off the bench. Udonis Haslem’s No. 40 will sway from the rafters one day; he hasn’t had a regular playing role in three years, which frustrates him but he still shows up to work and leads behind the scenes.

It’s not even uncommon for a Heat player to start one game and sit out the next.

It is uncommon, however, for someone to speak out like Whiteside did. He is playing seven minutes fewer per game than he did a year ago, and the Heat are quite happy with big men Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk in the lineup.

With playoffs looming, the Heat will want this schism resolved – fast.

“It’s tough,” Whiteside said. “I don’t know man, it’s crazy. I don’t understand it.”


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