The Portland Trail Blazers acquired Hassan Whiteside from the Miami Heat on Monday morning, sending Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to South Beach in an exchange of expiring contracts. The Heat then subsequently re-routed Harkless to the Los Angeles Clippers, in order to clear cap space for Jimmy Butler.
Experts are applauding the deal from both sides, but the early returns seem to favor the Heat. Here’s what they are saying about the deal:
The problem with Whiteside is that “when focused” qualifier. He often drew the ire of his veteran teammates for his inconsistent play. It was not uncommon for Miami guards to scold him during games for his lackadaisical screen setting. The Blazers don’t have veterans like Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem to keep Whiteside in check, but they do have expectations. Maybe the spectre of playing for a contender will awaken Whiteside, who can be seriously impactful when he’s giving a full effort. Ultimately, it’s a sensible risk for a guy on an expiring deal who fills a need.
This trade is a win-win-win for Miami. Adebayo now slots in as the starting center. Leonard and Harkless add depth at positions of need—small forward and stretch five. And the Heat save nearly $5 million in this trade, which helps their complicated math situation in the wake of the Jimmy Butler pursuit. Getting rid of Whiteside not only gets rid of the most negative force in Miami’s locker room, it opens up more playing time for a better player and maintains the Heat’s flexibility moving forward. It also means frustrated Heat fans will never have to see Whiteside lazily set a pick or half-heartedly rotate on defense ever again. The trade was a no-brainer.
The addition of Whiteside provides the Blazers with some center insurance while they wait for Nurkic to fully recover from his leg injury. Whiteside, who is capable of providing a team with starting center-caliber production, can start in Nurkic’s absence, and upon his return he can slide to a reserve role in order to bolster the bench. On paper, a center rotation of Nurkic and Whiteside is pretty formidable. Plus, Whiteside will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, so if things don’t work out the Blazers can cut ties and not have to worry about long-term salary cap implications.
For the Heat, this trade is all about addition by subtraction. Whiteside was a constant malcontent in Miami, and the team could potentially benefit just from having him out of the locker room. Whiteside wasn’t part of Miami’s future, so getting some return for him is a positive. Bam Adebayo can slide into the starting center spot for the Heat, and the team will be able to move forward with the third-year big man.
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As the Blazers wait for Nurkic to heal and be their big man of the present and future, Damian Lillard gets the task of keeping Whiteside focused and motivated to help the team. Maybe this feels like unfair characterizing of Whiteside. Maybe the Heat organization was just a bad fit. But enough frustration has come out of that franchise with Whiteside overall that there has to be at least a justifiable amount of fire with this smoke. Whiteside will block shots for them, which could help make up for the fact that Aminu is gone.
However, he’s incapable of defending well in space, and that drop coverage Portland may employ against pick-and-roll action will be even worse. Whiteside wants to live at the rim on defense and deter shots. Teams love to attack him in these situations because they know they can get clean look after clean look when they pull up short of trying to score at the rim. For a team like Portland, this could end up shredding their defense or force CJ McCollum and Lillard to keep improving at navigating screens on the perimeter.
As for Miami, the gamble here is far less severe. As they continue to shed contracts off their books to acquire Butler in the sign-and-trade, they have to hope they’re not damaging their depth too much.
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