As much fun as it is to watch NBA teams move more and more in the direction of positionless basketball, rim protectors are still highly coveted and valuable assets. DeAndre Jordan was one of the most sought after free agents last year, and now it looks like Hassan Whiteside could be the most hotly contested player on the market this side of Kevin Durant. The Miami Heat are doing their damnedest to keep him, the Mavericks have made him their top target, the Blazers are going after him, and now the Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly throwing their collective hat in the ring with an aggressive pursuit.
The move makes a ton of sense for Los Angeles. Whiteside is 27 years old, which is a bit past where the Lakers’ young core of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and now Brandon Ingram are at, but he’s not going to get any shorter as he ages, and the Lakers will not be satisfied with a multi-year rebuild, especially as owner Jim Buss is on a deadline to make the team relevant again. A starting five of Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Ingram, Randle and Whiteside could be dangerous as soon as 2017-18, or even next year if Ingram bulks up quickly and picks up the pace of playing NBA defense faster than most of his peers. That’s what rim protection can do for a team, if that’s what Whiteside can consistently give them.
Except, the Lakers aren’t the only team that knows that, and there’s a certain someone down in Miami who is motivated to keep Hassan in South Beach.
“Our No. 1 priority is Hassan Whiteside,” Heat president Pat Riley told reporters after the season, by way of ESPN. “He’s 26 years old. He’s a game changer.”
Whiteside is openly looking to get as much money as he can from the open market, and the Lakers have plenty of cap space to throw a max contract at him and it’s definitely going to take the max to sign Whiteside. At this point, he’s got the most wide-open free agency of any major player ahead of him.