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Free agency: Hassan Whiteside says Heat vs. Mavericks was tough call

July 15, 2016

When Hassan Whiteside wrapped up his free agency meetings withthe Heatand Mavericks in early hours of July 1, he was genuinely torn.

As he considered his choices, he thought about the Miami delegation that flew up to persuade him to stay: Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley, Andy Elisburg and Alonzo Mourning. It wasn’t always smooth, but these were the people who gave him a chancewhen he was out of the NBA two years agoand facilitated him becoming one of the best centers in league.

“It was two great organizations, and just talking to both of them and them telling me what they had to offer — it was a close decision, but I decided to stay with the Heat,” Whiteside said during the Heat’s summer league game Thursday. “I just felt more comfortable here. I didn’t want to really change teams. I really felt comfortable.”

What did they say won him over?

“Just how important winning is,” he said. “And family. That’s really what it was.”

Whiteside will help lead the Heat into a new eraas they move on without Dwyane Wade. He and Goran Dragic are the only starters from last year set to return, with the possibility of Chris Bosh returning from blood clots still unknown.

There has been speculation that big money might tempt Whiteside to back off from the determination that got him to this point, a theory Riley tried to shoot down at the end of the season. Whiteside sounded intent on living up to the contract.

“People are always gonna look for the negatives in any situation,” he said. “I’ll never let people say, ‘I told you so about this kid.’ I’ve always been the type to try to prove people wrong. It drives me. I don’t see this as the end of my journey. It’s a stepping stone to get even better.”

Whiteside, 27, played his first full year in the NBA last season and averaged 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks — all career-highs. His 269 blocked shots led the league by a wide margin and were the most by anybody since 2007-08.

He had a strong first-round playoff series against Charlotte before spraining the MCL in his right knee during the Toronto series. He is moving fine now and has been doing offseason workouts. Whiteside said the main points of his summer program are ball handling, mid-range jumpers and post moves.

Wade was key in Whiteside’s success, establishing chemistry on pick-and-rolls with Whiteside opening space for Wade’s floater or Wade finding him on lobs. They were in touch during Wade’s free agency before he agreed to a two-year deal with the Bulls.

“I’m disappointed, but as long as he’s happy with his decision, that’s all I’m worried about,” Whiteside said. “As long he knows that dinner’s on him when we’re in Chicago, everything’s great.”

The Heat’s future, at least for the upcoming season, hinges largely on the cohesiveness of Whiteside and Dragic.Theystruggled to mesh in the first half of last season before Spoelstra ordered them to straighten out their issues coming out of the All-Star break. They both made an effort to relate with the other, and Whiteside is optimistic about how they’ll play together this season.

“He’s easy to talk to and he’s a really good point guard,” he said. “As the season went on, me and Goran understood each other better. Next year’s gonna be even bigger. It’s gonna be more of me and Goran communicating on that basketball level and getting to know each other even better.”