Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside reportedly "intends to opt into the final season of his contract barring something completely unforeseen developing in the coming days," according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.
However, the "growing belief" is that he'll be asking for a trade after picking up his option, per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.
Opting in will add $27.1 million to Miami's books and put the team "about $4 million over the projected $132 million luxury tax threshold, factoring in Miami's first-round draft pick and forward Ryan Anderson's expected buyout," per Jackson.
That makes finding a way to move off some salary a priority for the Heat this summer, though it's hard to imagine the team being able to move Whiteside's contract without giving up serious assets.
Whiteside's massive contract would be less prohibitive for the Heat if he was expected to play a bigger role in the 2019-20 season. He fell below Bam Adebayo on the depth chart last season, starting just 53 games and averaging 23.3 minutes per contest.
He averaged 12.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, though his numbers before the All-Star Game (12.8 PPG, 12.4 RPG and 2.1 BPG in 25.4 MPG) were clearly better than after the All-Star Game (11.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG and 1.4 BPG in 18.5 MPG), when Adebayo emerged as the team's starting center.
Paying a potential backup center $27.1 million is a tough pill to swallow, and moving that contract won't be easy, though Whiteside still believes he's a starting-caliber player.
"I don't think I'm a 20-minute guy. I average what, 20 minutes? So I think I can play more and I can do more," Whiteside said in April, per Jackson. "So I definitely think what I bring to the game is at a high level for my position. You know, I led the league in categories that you would want a big man to lead the league in. I feel like I can keep doing that."
Whiteside's contract isn't the only deal the Heat would likely move if given the chance. Goran Dragic opted into his $19.2 million option for the 2019-20 season last week, while James Johnson ($15.1 million), Justise Winslow ($13 million), Dion Waiters ($12.1 million) and Kelly Olynyk ($11.6 million) all have significant cap hits on the books next season, per Spotrac.com.
That's left the Heat in a tough position from a team-building perspective. In Adebayo and Josh Richardson, Miami has two solid players to build around. But given their current roster construction, the Heat are likely going to be fighting for a seventh or eighth seed and could miss the playoffs again.
They'll get some salary cap relief in a year, when Whiteside and Dragic come off the books, so giving up assets now to clear salary may not be the ideal option. But that means—barring some wizardry from Pat Riley and the front office—the Heat aren't going to have much wiggle room to improve the team this season, either.