There are plenty of NBA players that come into the league and just aren’t ready. They don’t understand the work and commitment it takes to make it in the league. They don’t get that there are 60 new draft picks flooding into the league every year trying to steal one of the 400-plus jobs that are available.
That was the case for Hassan Whiteside when the Sacramento Kings selected him with the No. 33 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. Not only was he not ready for the grind of the NBA lifestyle, he wasn’t willing to do what it took to get better.
“My first [time] round, I had a couple of injuries that kept me from being the player that I wanted to be,” Whiteside said of his second chance in Sacramento. “But I think this is a great opportunity to come back and revamp that.”
Whiteside bounced back and forth between Sacramento and Reno in his first season with the Kings. He played just a single game with the parent club in his rookie season before partially tearing his patella tendon.
When he came back for year two, he had bulked up tremendously, but again struggled with injuries and a lack of playing time. He was a project and the Kings already had other young players that they were more focused on.
The Kings waived the 7-footer after two years of trying to develop the shot blocker. At just 22-years-old, Whiteside was out of the league and forced to search the globe for a new opportunity.
His basketball journey first took him to the D-League, but he left the states during the 2012-13 season to join a professional team in Lebanon. Over the next two seasons, he bounced around the world, playing for multiple teams in both Lebanon and China.
In 2014, he finally got an opportunity to make it back to the NBA with the Miami Heat. He had matured and earned a rare second opportunity in the league, which he took full advantage of.
After playing for league minimum salaries in each of his first four seasons in the NBA, Whiteside hit pay dirt with the Heat. Whiteside led the league in blocks in his second season in Miami and averaged a double-double. The Heat rewarded him with a four-year, $98 million contract.
Now 31-years-old, Whiteside is coming off a season in which he earned $27 million with the Portland Trail Blazers. After averaging 15.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game with the Blazers, he signed a one-year minimum scale contract with Sacramento that will pay him just $2.3 million this season. Instead of trying to chase a ring, Whiteside wanted to come back to where it all started for him a decade ago.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I can be a big difference-maker and do something special, instead of just riding on coattails and trying to jump on with other people,” Whiteside said.
Whiteside’s numbers jump off the page, but that doesn’t mean that they will in his second stint in Sacramento. He’s an old school big that is built for a halfcourt setting. The Kings want to push the tempo and need him to be a defensive cog and a rim runner.
“I think I’m productive as far as anything you look at -- plus/minus, win share,” Whiteside said.
The 7-footer led the league in blocks, block percentage and offensive rebounds. He posted an offensive rating of 125 and defensive rating of 107 and his 8.5 win shares ranked 12th in the NBA.
Whether Whiteside can keep up the pace that coach Luke Walton wants to play at is a huge question. He can help with some of the team’s biggest weaknesses, like rebounding and rim protection, but he will have plenty of competition for minutes.
This was a low risk, high reward pick up for Sacramento. It also gives the team another asset in case they decide to start shipping players out midseason and turning the team over to the youth on the roster.
Whiteside isn’t the first Kings player to come back for a second tour of duty in Sacramento. In recent years, Ben McLemore, Omri Casspi and Tyreke Evans have made brief returns to the city where they got their start.
Hopefully, this experiment works out better than previous attempts.