Hassan Whiteside still refers to Miami as the place he grew as an NBA player.
Whiteside, now with the Portland Trail Blazers, made his first trip back to South Florida as a member of the opposing team Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. He spent five seasons with the Heat before being traded in the offseason.
The breakup was considered rocky after feuding with coach Erik Spoelstra most of his final two years. Still, Whiteside reiterated he has no ill feelings toward the Heat.
“I don’t have any bitterness toward the Heat or anything,” Whiteside said before Sunday’s game. “Like I said, I grew up, I kind of feel like I became an NBA player here. I feel like I faced the trials and tribulations of the NBA coming here, from ups and downs, to the highs, to the lows. From coming here in 2014 to not making the playoffs in 2014, to the next year being the three seed, making it to the second round, tearing my knee. I just remember being so upset and [Heat team president] Pat Riley just like holding me, telling me it’s going to be OK. Just things like that, like I’ll never forget.”
Whiteside was greeted with boos when he was introduced in the starting lineups. Many fans blamed him mostly for the team’s struggles the past three seasons because he was the highest-paid player. Most forget his improbable story of going from G League prospect to becoming one of the league’s top rebounders and defenders.
He battled inconsistency throughout his tenure in Miami but has rejuvenated his career with the Trail Blazers. In the final year of a four-year, $98 million contract, he was averaging 15.7 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks entering Sunday's game.
"Despite what people think is, we root for Hassan," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "I developed a strong relationship with Hassan here and arguably spent as much time with him as I have any other player. I loved his story, I really do. I love guys that have to overcome something and people discount them.”
Whiteside is averaging 29.7 minutes in Portland, the most since the 2016-17 season. Playing time was among the biggest issues for him in Miami but he is finally comfortable with his situation.
“I’m just out there longer,” Whiteside said. “I’m just out there playing 30 minutes a game. I never felt like my production changed. You guys know better than me. Y’all can run the 36 per minutes. You can run it every year for my NBA career and it’s going to pretty much stay around the same, but I just think it’s just more minutes and we need every one of them.”