Sports are often compared to marriage. And just like the holy union, a free agency commitment between a player and an organization is often predicated on feeling wanted. In the case of the Miami Heat, the dilemma is finding the delicate balance of pursuing the big fish (Kevin Durant) while making a guy who has not been wanted his entire career (Hassan Whiteside) feel like a priority.
The major key for Pat Riley and the Heat is to make sure that their center does not simply feel like a fallback plan the way he often did during the season as he fell victim to coach Erik Spoelstra‘s quick hooks and benching duty. That’s not exactly the treatment you give a guy who you want to have that loving, come back to the team feeling.
For Riley’s part, he has said all of the right things about the 7-footer being “at the front of the line” of Miami’s free agency chase. However, that may come into question if Durant’s six-team meeting list causes his decision to be delayed, because Whiteside would ideally want to make his choice the first day the floodgates open, July 1.
This is a scary thought for fans when he also expressed “I really don’t think it’s about loyalty. I think it’s just about the best situation for myself.” Obviously, this makes money come to mind and the thought of being financially compensated like the elite big man he has been over the last year and a half. Particularly so after putting his free agency power in jeopardy by playing with numerous injuries during the playoffs before succumbing to a knee injury against the Toronto Raptors in the second round.
But the best situation for him also invokes the thoughts of opportunity.
Whiteside averaged 14 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks for a team where he was nowhere near being featured. Yet teams will still pitch how much more playing time and go-to-guy status they can supply him with. However, every situation comes with shortcomings to those promises.
The Heat will go through Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Durant first — if they can sign him. The bulk of the Portland Trail Blazers‘ offense will go through the man with the ball in his hands, Damian Lillard. The Golden State Warriors will operate through Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, and the Los Angeles Lakers will have a quartet of young players all wanting to put up shots. The only person who will likely be down to defer is Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas.
It is all a lot to take in for a man who went from not being able to get a workout — two years ago — to having plenty of organizations prepared to call. Or in the case of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, following him on social media.
Riley’s job will be to prove that the grass is not greener on any other sides, while juggling all of his pursuits in a way that makes them seem like equal slices to the Heat pie — even if they really are not.