MIAMI (AP) — Hassan Whiteside cannot wait to become a free agent.
He also cannot wait for the process to end.
The Miami Heat center — for now, anyway — becomes a free agent on Friday and if all goes according to his plan, that will also be the day that he decides where he’ll be playing next season.
The Heat have said retaining Whiteside is a huge priority, and it’s believed that Dallas and the Los Angeles Lakers will also be among the teams who will be courting the NBA’s reigning blocked-shot champion.
“July 1, hopefully, I’ll know,” Whiteside said. “I hope it’s an easy decision to make.”
He made just under $1 million this season and became a star in Miami, averaging 14.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.
His next contract will almost certainly get him something in the range of $20 million annually, and in the span of just a couple of years he’s gone from an afterthought toiling in Lebanon, China and the NBA Development League into someone who’ll be one of the most pursued free agents this summer.
Asked Sunday what was the most important factor — money, location, surrounding talent or something else — Whiteside said he couldn’t pinpoint which would be the top thing.
“It’s a toss-up,” Whiteside said. “It’s a lot of things that come into it. It’s not one specific thing. It’s like you having a wife. You can’t say one specific thing you like about her. You’ve just got to like her as a whole. I’ve got to choose it all together. All the dots have to connect.”
All the dots connected for him in Miami over the past 18 months.
He went to the Heat in November 2014 as a free agent and before long became an integral part of Miami’s plan. He had 63 double-doubles with the Heat in that span, 32 games with at least five blocked shots and four triple-doubles — all with blocks.
Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who also becomes a free agent Friday, said he hopes Whiteside stays.
“The team that gave you a chance when nobody else did, for me, it would be a no-brainer,” Haslem told AP on Sunday before Whiteside met with reporters at a 3-on-3 tournament.
“I’d just tell Hassan to be good and be loyal to the people who were good to you. No one else believed in you when you were in China or at the YMCA or whatever. The Heat gave him an opportunity and he maximized that opportunity, so I hope he’s loyal to that.”
So far, it doesn’t seem as if that approach is resonating with Whiteside.
“I really don’t think it’s about loyalty,” Whiteside said. “I think it’s about the best situation for myself.”
Whiteside missed the last four games of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against Toronto with a strained knee ligament. The Heat lost that series in seven games. Whiteside is doing some light shooting and said he did not require surgery, but hasn’t resumed the rigors of anything like 5-on-5 workouts yet.
He wore Heat shorts on Sunday, has spoken several times about how much he’s enjoyed living in Miami and said it was “awesome” to have a crowd of fans swarming him when he arrived at the 3-on-3 tournament held just north of the arena that he’s called home for the past two seasons.
But now comes his biggest decision yet. A guy who couldn’t find an NBA job a couple of years ago gets to decide his future.
“I find it flattering, because in the past I was trying to call those teams,” Whiteside said. “And now it’s the other way around.”
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