Several games into the season, Whiteside’s fit is still being questioned.
The big man is averaging a double-double with 14.9 points and 13.1 rebounds per game, and he has looked like a force at times. However, there have been several stints where Whiteside’s fit has been less than ideal. Before the Zach Collins injury, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was opting to run a small lineup to close out games. During crucial minutes, Whiteside was on the bench watching.
Stotts’ hand has been forced thanks to the injury bug, however. Whiteside has received those minutes by default, but he hasn’t quite grown into them.
When Damian Lillard is facilitating and utilizing pick-and-rolls, Whiteside has been able to get everything he wants from the inside. It’s an aspect of their game that should develop as they play together longer.
But the clock is ticking. Whiteside is playing in the final year of a massive contract — a contract many have argued he hasn’t lived up to.
Whiteside, while oozing with potential, has somewhat underachieved since the 2015-16 season, when he was selected to the All-Defensive team. His numbers have never been bad, but Heat fans were frustrated with his play.
Portland’s front office was willing to take a gamble on Whiteside and his inconsistent effort. It’s a contract year, after all. Players play harder when money is on the line.
Yet still, it has been a mixed bag for Whiteside. For every stretch where he looks dominant, he has entire quarters or halves where he seems like he doesn’t want to play.
In a matter of a few possessions, Whiteside can go from looking like a steal to looking like a backup. In just a fraction of the season, Blazers fans can relate to the frustrations of Miami Heat fans.
With the Blazers being secretive about Nurkic’s timetable to return, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the team plans to do with Whiteside. But if Collins’ previous role is any indication, Whiteside isn’t seen as a season-long plan.
A potential lineup that runs Whiteside and Nurkic on the floor, in tandem, would likely clog up the inside. Nurkic’s outside shot isn’t developed enough to use him as a power forward. Their skill sets are too similar.
With the mounting needs of the team, a trade that involves Whiteside before the trade deadline makes sense.
The question, however, is who might be looking for a center on an expiring $27 million contract.
The reality is the list is short. It’s made even shorter when considering who could even reasonably balance contracts to work with the cap.
Here are three teams that might match up well as trade suitors for Hassan Whiteside.
Oklahoma City Thunder
If there’s one thing the Oklahoma City Thunder have shown in the last five months, it’s that large contracts won’t scare them away if it means they’ll be getting some draft capital back.
As talented as Hassan Whiteside is, there’s a good chance he’ll have to be dumped to a non-contending team for something that fits the Blazers’ needs more once Nurkic is eventually healthy.
Making the money line up for cap purposes is easy in this situation.
The Thunder will probably be looking to shop Danilo Gallinari before the trade deadline comes, and he might match up perfectly with what the Blazers are looking for. Even when Collins eventually returns, Gallinari could offer some size and shooting in the frontcourt.
The Blazers might have to give up a first-round pick to make it happen, but Gallinari would be a much better fit for a fully healthy squad that would otherwise have to play Whiteside off the bench.
The second scenario preys on a fringe playoff team like the Sacramento Kings. The Kings have assembled a squad that could eke out an eighth-place finish in the West if everything goes right, though injuries to Marvin Bagley III and De’Aaron Fox are already setting them back during a sluggish start.
One of Sacramento’s weakest positions has to be center. Dewayne Dedmon has struggled so far in the early portion of the season. Hassan Whiteside would be a clear upgrade over him and would be returning to where his NBA career began. He’d probably be a nice fit with the play of Buddy Hield.
The Kings could probably part ways with both Trevor Ariza and Cory Joseph after they become trade eligible in December. Neither player is having a great year, but Ariza’s defensive presence could really help Portland’s second unit.
The Blazers may be able to get some good bench depth as well as draft capital back for an asset they aren’t entirely sure how to use.
Last but not least is the blockbuster. It has been speculated how the Blazers might be able to land Kevin Love — this would be the way to get him.
Hassan Whiteside’s contract would be a draw to the Cavaliers in that he would come off the books this coming offseason. That’s reason enough to kick around a trade that gets rid of Love’s contract that extends into 2023.
It would be a gamble for Portland. Love played just 22 games last season, but he’s healthy so far this year and is putting up numbers that are comparable to Whiteside’s but with far more floor spacing.
The downside to a trade like this is that it demands going for a title in a small window. The Blazers would almost certainly have to give up major draft capital for a trade like this to work. They may even have to dangle one of their younger stars.
But just like Whiteside, Love’s value is difficult to quantify. In one light, Love has seen his best days go by him. But in another, Love’s value has been muted by being trapped on a Cleveland team that has been relegated to cellar-dwelling, though the Cavs have gotten off to a decent start this season.
There is still time for things to change. Hassan Whiteside could find his chemistry with Lillard. He could also drastically and negatively affect his trade value. Stotts may find a way to play Whiteside and Nurkic with each other.
The speculative trades are tantalizing and worth exploring. After all, once that contract expires, the Portland Trail Blazers may have nothing to show for it.