Hassan Whiteside will be returning to the Miami Heat, the highly sought after center announced via his own Snapchat and on the Player's Tribune early Friday morning.
Whiteside will take a four-year max to return to Miami after meeting with the Heat and the Mavericks last night in New York. Top Mavericks free agent target Nicolas Batum also agreed to return to the Charlotte Hornets on Friday morning, leaving Dallas scrambling for contingency plans.
Mark Cuban led the Mavericks' pitch for Whiteside, which happened in New York City just minutes into free agency officially started at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. Part of the pitch included an animated video, reminiscent of the one used to pitch Dwight Howard several years ago, per several sources. The biggest factor, though, was the max contract -- a four-year deal worth $94.8 million, with the first year starting at $22.2 million, one the Heat quickly offered him as well.
Whiteside announced his free agency directly from the Players Tribune, where he issued the following statement:
I've played on eight teams since college — from Reno to Sioux Falls to Sichuan, China.
I am not ready for there to be a ninth.
I have decided to re-sign with Miami. I just wanted to take this time to tell all the fans how much you mean to this team, and to me.
Can't wait to get back to work and try to bring another championship to Miami. #HeatNation
Whiteside described himself as a "businessman who played basketball" in the days leading up to July 1, indicated that he felt no real loyalty to Miami after two seasons there. The Heat did not own his Bird rights, meaning they couldn't offer him any more than the Mavericks or Trail Blazers did, nor could they throw in a fifth year. Miami also had a complicated salary cap puzzle.
But early Friday morning in New York, the reported plan for the Mavericks to receive Whiteside first, before the Heat, had reportedly changed. Miami finished their meeting more than an hour after free agency started, and while Dallas had been the frontrunners for Whiteside in the hours leading up to midnight, the tide had shifted by the time Whiteside went to bed, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Whiteside has a bizarre career path. After being the 33rd overall draft pick in 2010, Whiteside fell out of the league in two years. He ended up overseas, playing in China and Lebanon in 2013 before he ended back stateside playing in the D-League. His big break came with the Heat, where he turned into an elite rebounder and shot blocker last season. This year, Whiteside turned into a bonafide star, playing 73 games for Miami while averaging 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and an incredible 3.7 blocks.
There are valid concerns about Whiteside. There are questions why he didn't make it into the league sooner, when his talent was obvious. He came off the bench for about 30 games in Miami under head coach Erik Spoelstra, who runs a tight ship similar to Rick Carlisle's. Whiteside made marked improvements during the second half of last year, but there were long-running concerns whether the Heat were better with Whiteside off the floor for a while, partly because Whiteside frequently sold out for blocks at the expense of fundamental defense. And though Whiteside was highly motivated while making the minimum, teams might have to work hard to motivate him when he's making nearly nine figures of guaranteed money.
Still, Whiteside is a sensational defender when at his best, which he was often in the second half of last season, and an explosive scorer around the rim as well. You can't teach his rebounding. There's no doubt he commanded the max, and Dallas' loss of the high-profile center is undoubtedly a huge loss.
The Mavericks had placed much of their hopes on a pairing of Whiteside and Mike Conley headed into this summer, it seemed, and were so sure if it that they bid Chandler Parsons farewell before free agency even began. Now, it really does look like they might be headed for a free agency disaster.