(UPDATE: Dwyane Wade agreed to sign with the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night)
It may seem like Dwyane Wade is the Miami Heat’s ultimate answer to every question right now but Hassan Whiteside actually was the No. 1 priority on Pat Riley’s free-agency shopping list.
First offered. First to reach agreement. First to sign once NBA rules allow on Thursday. Hassan leads in all categories with a Heat team that may be on the verge of a major makeover, and of course none of that makes Wade feel as prized as he deserves to be.
So what exactly does Miami have in Hassan? A guy who just got a max-contract reward of $1.3 million for each of his 75 career NBA starts? A backup to Amar’e Stoudemire for big chunks of last season? Yeah, that’s young Whiteside.
Here’s where it really starts to get cool, though. Riley wanted Whiteside back here in the same way that he wanted Shaquille O’Neal to join Miami in 2004.
Remember the fuss when Shaq arrived at AmericanAirlines Arena for an introductory press conference? He rode up in an 18-wheeler, jumped out of the cab to cool down thousands of waiting fans with a water gun and went inside to entertain the media with his usual oversized promises of championship greatness.
That first season in Miami Shaq was pretty great. Averages of 22.9 points, 2.3 blocks and 10.4 rebounds per game and a league-leading .601 field-goal percentage. Dunks, dunks and more dunks for the Hall of Famer, who was 32 at the time.
Compare Whiteside’s 2015-16 numbers, though. He averaged 14.2 points, significantly less, but led the league in blocks with 3.7 per game and averaged 11.8 rebounds. Also, Hassan’s relatively raw offensive game produced a shooting percentage of .609, right behind DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard.
Not a bad starting point, and that’s all this is for Whiteside. Compare Hassan’s first postseason to that inaugural Shaq-Heat playoff run, too, remembering that an injury stopped Whiteside after just 10 games.
During the 2005 playoffs, which ended for Miami in an Eastern Conference final loss to Detroit, Shaq averaged 19.4 points, 1.5 blocks and 7.8 rebounds with a .558 field-goal percentage.
Hassan’s first postseason run was better in every way but scoring. He averaged 12.0 points, 2.8 blocks and 10.9 rebounds per game and his shooting percentage, aided by all those lob passes from Wade, rose to .681.
In the longer view, Shaq never blocked shots at Whiteside’s rate. O’Neal’s best season in that category was 3.5 per game as a 20-year-old Orlando Magic rookie. His career average over 19 NBA seasons was 2.3.
Not saying that Whiteside is Shaq, who in his second Heat season contributed mightily to an NBA championship, or that he will become Shaq, or anything of the sort.
While everybody’s frantic about possibly losing Wade, however, it helps a little to know what Miami is building around for the next four years. Whiteside is going to get better, and Riley is going to be building future free-agency pitches around the chance to play with the NBA’s premier big man.