The Miami HEAT reached the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons between 2011 and 2014 primarily due to their big three of Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. The league’s hierarchy has since undergone a seismic shift.
James departed two seasons ago, heading back home where he has led the Cleveland Cavaliers to back-to-back Finals appearances and a title. Wade bolted this past summer in free agency, feeling disrespected by Miami’s front office and joining his hometown Chicago Bulls to assist Jimmy Butler in getting the franchise back on track. Lastly, after two consecutive seasons cut short due to blood clot issues, Bosh’s future with the team is essentially over after a failed training camp physical and Miami’s brass publicly stating their intent to move on.
The Big Three is no more.
However, there is still plenty of talent remaining in Miami to keep the team afloat while reinforcements are secured. One of the primary players who will be expected to emerge from the shadows cast by future Hall of Famers Bosh and Wade is center Hassan Whiteside. The franchise signed the emerging big man to a four-year, nearly $100 million deal this past summer and expectations will be sky high for Whiteside to deliver the goods night in and night out.
The challenge could be a daunting one for Whiteside, who has never earned more than $1 million in any given campaign since turning pro. But the center is now locked up to a long-term deal and has been immediately thrust into a leadership role.
In the HEAT’s first preseason game, a win over the Washington Wizards, Whiteside delivered by posting 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks on 75 percent shooting from the floor in just 23 minutes of action.
While expecting Whiteside to continue putting up gaudy stat lines of this magnitude is unrealistic, it appears the center’s career is finally in a stable place after receiving his new deal and the vote of confidence from Miami’s front office. According to the Associated Press, Whiteside believes the new deal provides plenty of security moving forward.
“It wasn’t really like a relaxing moment,” Whiteside told reporters postgame when asked about his new deal. “I felt like more security. I felt like the HEAT wanted me here for four more years; it’s stabilization. I can buy my first house. It was really an opportunity to know where I’m going to be. I’ve never been on a basketball team for longer than two years so for somebody to take that and say we want you for four more years was really humbling.”
Without Bosh and Wade, Miami will undoubtedly struggle to score on most nights. Veteran guard Goran Dragic will naturally see his usage increase without Wade in the backcourt facilitating. The team also signed former lottery pick Dion Waiters in free agency, expecting the guard to bolster their offense when inserted into the lineup. Miami also lost veteran forwards Luol Deng and Joe Johnson in free agency, which puts pressure on second-year forward Justise Winslow to be ready for an increased role.
In order for Miami to be successful this season, the club will need to minimize mistakes while collectively doing the dirty work as a unit. Head coach Erik Spoelstra says he saw some of those unselfish traits
“I saw quite a few possessions in the second half where the guy was making a conscious effort to help the next guy,” Spoelstra said. “That might be a screen, it might be spacing, getting the proper spacing so the ball has room to operate, it could have been the extra pass, those things. If guys understand the importance of those things, it makes the next guy want to make a selfless act as well, but we’ll need to continue to build that habit.”
Preseason predictions have been mixed on whether Miami can sustain their forward momentum without Bosh and Wade by riding the backs of Dragic, Whiteside and Winslow in leadership roles. But the franchise has proven to be extremely successful in continuing to lure top talent into the fold.
Whiteside, for the moment at least, isn’t overly concerned about team president Pat Riley’s ability to attract more talent into the organization in order to continue their retooling efforts.
“You can always recruit people to come to Miami,” Whiteside said. “Miami kind of sells itself. It’s not really hard in that aspect, so you know you’ll always have a good team.”
Make sure to follow Basketball Insiders on Twitter at @BBallInsiders.