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Blazers Questions at the Break: Can Whiteside Create a Market?

The final stretch of the season could give Hassan Whiteside a chance to cultivate suitors prior to hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The All-Star Break is here and due to an unfortunate groin injury, the Trail Blazers’ presence at the event is limited to musical performance from Damian Lillard. Here are series of questions that loom for the Blazers prior to their return to the court on Feb. 21.

This post focuses on Hassan Whiteside and his impending free agency. The former Heat center has produced big numbers, but will that be enough to cultivate suitors this summer?

Let’s start with Whiteside’s production this year. Featured on a new team, he has returned to his monstrous output from his best days with the Heat. Through 51 appearances, Whiteside is averaging 15.7 points, 14.1 rebounds and a league-leading 3.0 blocks per game. His play hasn’t always been consistent or impactful in the win column, but there is no denying his output in the paint. Teams that doubted his ability to return to that level should at least pause when evaluating his potential fit.

The final third of the 2019-20 season could present Whiteside with another opportunity to mitigate the worries of potential suitors. If Jusuf Nurkic returns to the court to occupy a significant timeshare, Whiteside has a window to prove that he can adapt to a fluid role. Along with impactful output, Whiteside’s attitude has come under fire on a few separate occasions in the national media.

Assuming that everything works out swimmingly for Whiteside to finish the year, will it be enough to attract suitors in free agency? That is the tough question. As Early Bird Rights founder Jeff Siegel outlined after the trade deadline, only a handful of teams possess meaningful cap space this summer.

As our own Eric Griffith pointed out, Whiteside’s asking price could rest at the top of the MLE spectrum. Even if that is the case, a team in a friendlier tax environment could complicate Whiteside’s decision in the same way it did back in 2016 (he took free agency meetings with the Mavericks and Heat).

Cap complications aside, Whiteside will join a list of noteworthy free agent centers this summer. Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell, Serge Ibaka and Tristan Thompson are all poised to form a solid class of available big men in a market that is moving away from traditional pivots.

Can Whiteside’s continued output create a market for his services this summer? If so, will it be enough to give the Blazers sticker shock?