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Hassan Whiteside joining Utah Jazz for veteran’s minimum to be the backup center

Big man is leaving Sacramento to replace Derrick Favors

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside (21) shoots as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the first half during an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

You couldn’t have seen this coming a couple of years ago.

Hassan Whiteside agreed to terms on a veteran minimum contract to join the Utah Jazz as their choice at the backup center position, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

To be sure, Whiteside has been productive in his NBA career. He has twice led the NBA in blocks per game, once in rebounds per game, and averaged 13 points per game during his NBA career. And it’s been an unusual journey: After being drafted in the second round by Sacramento, he fell out of the league after three seasons, spending two seasons playing in the D-League, China, and even Lebanon. But in 2014, the Miami Heat gave him a second chance, and he quickly impressed to become their starting center, signing a contract with the team for nearly $100 million in the summer of 2016. From there, the Heat later moved Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers to make room for the emergent Bam Adebayo.

At his peak, Whiteside was a valuable center, leaving fans to argue who was more valuable: the former Marshall Thundering Herd behemoth or Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

It came to a head before a game in 2019. “I think Whiteside is the best defensive center, shot-blocking center, in the league,” former teammate Damian Lillard said. Then, the Jazz worked Whiteside, to the tune of a 121-115 win — Whiteside had a -28 plus-minus in the 21 minutes he played in that game.

When asked about Lillard’s quote postgame, Gobert responded, “He should have told his coach to put him in in the end, then.” There have been other quips, too.

Since then, Whiteside’s career has stalled a bit. Last season, he played just 36 games for the Sacramento Kings, as the team prioritized youth over Whiteside’s experience. Now, the 31-year-old center needed a team and another chance.

Enter the Jazz, who, since the trade of Derrick Favors last Friday, have been in the market for a backup center. But after signing Rudy Gay to a deal for the taxpayer mid-level exception earlier in Monday, the Jazz legally only could spend the veteran’s minimum for the role.

Hence, the gamble on Whiteside. Despite the bad game three months before the season shutdown in March of 2020, if Whiteside can retain the form he had in Portland, he’ll be a good addition. If he plays more like he did in Sacramento, it’ll be more of a struggle.

Either way, the Jazz’s locker room just got more interesting, with either one or two roster spots remaining to fill. Whiteside can officially sign his new deal with the Jazz on Friday.

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