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NBA Beat: Hassan Whiteside finally gets message, starts for Heat

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside dunks against Los Angeles Clippers forward Spencer Hawes on Jan. 11. Both players are former Kings.
Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside dunks against Los Angeles Clippers forward Spencer Hawes on Jan. 11. Both players are former Kings. The Associated Press

The Miami Heat’s interest in Hassan Whiteside existed long before he signed with the team this season.

The Heat considered drafting Whiteside in 2010, when he was selected in the second round, 33rd overall, by the Kings.

And even after Whiteside was benched during a summer league game and the Kings cut him in July 2012, the Heat kept tabs on Whiteside while he played in the NBA Development League, Lebanon and China.

Finally, the Heat signed Whiteside on Nov. 24, when it appeared he finally had learned what coaches tried to teach him in Sacramento.

It wasn’t about stats or stardom. Whiteside needed to put in the hard work to be an NBA player.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said Whiteside’s willingness to accept coaching and work hard have helped him earn the starting job at center. Spoelstra decided to sign Whiteside after talking with him.

“There was a look in his eye when I talked to him specifically about the expectations of work and player development and not necessarily role,” Spoelstra said. “And he looked me square in the eye and said, ‘I’m ready for that.’ It was different than years past.”

Whiteside is averaging 7.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks this season. That includes a 23-point, 16-rebound effort (both career highs) in a win over the Clippers in Los Angeles on Jan. 11.

Whiteside’s size (7-foot, 265 pounds) and athletic ability have always made him an intriguing prospect. That’s why the Kings drafted him, even though they had selected center DeMarcus Cousins in the first round.

Maturity and work ethic were always the big concerns. It got to the point where the Kings, wondering if Whiteside would ever develop the professionalism needed to stick in the league, let him go during summer league to sign guard Aaron Brooks.

Whiteside talked about not getting enough touches on offense, when that was clearly not his role. And his inexperience made him a better candidate to stay in college longer or play in the D-League.

Whiteside left college after one season at Marshall and was still relatively new to basketball. He had played at multiple high schools before landing in prep school at The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C.

Whiteside sees his role with the Heat differently than he did with the Kings.

“Just contribute any way I can, whether that’s rebounding and blocks, finishing around the basket and just play alongside with the team and be a key piece and help contribute,” he said.

Whiteside said he didn’t get down on himself as he worked to get back in the NBA.

“I always had a lot of confidence growing up,” Whiteside said. “That’s what really kept me going every day and not really thinking of the long haul of trying to get back to the NBA. I just thought about it day by day.”

Spoelstra said Whiteside has earned a spot in Miami’s rotation as a starter or reserve.

The coach wants Whiteside, 25, to continue to focus on anchoring the defense, rebounding and improving overall.

It’s a plan to which Whiteside is now receptive.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do, and there’s been a big commitment to the work and the player development,” Spoelstra said. “You just never know when a guy is ready to grab an opportunity.”

Trending up

In shocking news, the Cleveland Cavaliers are better with LeBron James in the lineup.

The Cavs have won two of three games since James returned from knee and back injuries.

That doesn’t mean all is well with the Cavs. At 21-20, they’re not among the leaders in the Eastern Conference, and reports of discord between players and coach David Blatt continue to surface.

But if James is healthy, the Cavs won’t be a team barely above .500.

Trending down

Figuring out the Brooklyn Netsis tough. They have a huge payroll but are barely a playoff team in the East.

Center Brook Lopez made the All-Star team in 2013, but he’s back on the trading block as the team looks to shed his contract and lack of production compared to those of the younger Mason Plumlee.

Point guard Deron Williams is out with a rib injury, and the Nets (17-24) have lost eight of their last nine games.

This team shouldn’t be in the lottery, but it’s only one game ahead of Charlotte and Detroit, two teams that have played much better than Brooklyn lately, for the final playoff spot in the East.

Last words

“I just don’t like you.” – Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook to a reporter after posting a triple double in a win over Golden State on Friday.

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