Even before the Miami Heat‘s 2017-18 season came to an end on Tuesday night, the image of center Hassan Whiteside was taking a beating from his critics. That criticism has seemingly intensified over the past few days, which led one of the targets of Whiteside’s periodic verbal attacks, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra, to speak up for the veteran.
Spo defending Whiteside, and noted that injuries impacted him this year: "The narrative and the storylines that will be out there, I do think they're unfair about Hassan right now."
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) April 27, 2018
Whiteside played in 54 games this past season, with injuries to his knee and hip playing a part in his absences from all but one of the remaining contests. Two different times, he was forced to deal with a bone bruise to his left knee, which kept him out of a total of 18 games, while the hip injury kept him out of nine matchups and one other absence was the result of a stomach illness. He sustained the original bone bruise in the season-opening contest on Oct. 18 against Orlando while delivering a huge performance by scoring 26 points and grabbing 22 rebounds.
“That changed the course of his season,” Spoelstra said. “He really battled and grinded through not feeling 100 percent, several times. It’s just one of those seasons that never felt like he was able to fully be healthy and ready to give like he was in that first game.”
The missed opportunity of Whiteside not being able to expand on his game was frustrating to Spoelstra, that chance taken away by the knee trouble.
“He really was learning how to impact winning last year,” Spoelstra said. “It took him three months, but I could not be more proud of a player of transforming himself as a guy that could pile a bunch of stats in a way that we had never seen before to a guy that really impacted winning. And then to have the offseason that he had and to have a great training camp, a great preseason and then, ‘Bam!’ [Claps hands loudly] it was off to the races. And he has an injury…”
Spoelstra also noted that the fact that Whiteside played just 77 minutes during the postseason won’t be remembered for long:
“In two weeks, nobody will be talking about that,” Spoelstra said. “We can go take some time away. Hassan can get his mind off this and in a few weeks we can get back and connect and then start to share our experiences. He’s not the only guy that’s had to go through something like this. His head coach has. And like I said, a lot of players that have come through our system have been through that kind of playoffs. That is the playoffs. There’s going to be heroes. There’s going to people place blame on. None of it is fair. That’s just the way it is, and we can help him through that process.”
Despite Spoelstra’s praise for the embattled big man, the Heat are still likely looking at trade opportunities involving Whiteside. The combination of his inconsistent play and his contract that will pay him over $50 million over the next two seasons could make that a difficult proposition during the offseason.