Ira Winderman: The riddles of Winslow, Waiters, Whiteside lack closure for Heat

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From left, Miami Heat players Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Justise Winslow look from the bench against Toronto Raptors at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on January 2, 2020. - DAVID SANTIAGO/Miami Herald/TNS

MIAMI — This is not binge viewing, where you can jump to the end to see how it turns out.

Episodic in its storytelling, the NBA, through its days, weeks and months, offers enough twists that only at the end can you make sense of it all.

Unless there is no end.

Which could be the case this season.

For the Miami Heat, that would leave three particular chapters with a lack of closure, all in the W column, in this case with Justise Winslow, Dion Waiters and Hassan Whiteside.

Foremost is what could have become, or perhaps what still will become of Winslow with the Memphis Grizzlies.

At the time that the Heat dealt Winslow to the Memphis Grizzlies at the Feb. 6 NBA trading deadline, the 2015 first-round pick was still on the inactive list with the lower-back bruise that had him out for all but one game since Dec. 4.

Inside the Heat, there was question of whether Winslow would play again. In fact, when the Heat made the trade with the Grizzlies for Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill, the view expressed by both coach Erik Spoelstra and Heat president Pat Riley was that it was an opportunity to help the Heat in the moment.

Then, just days before the NBA’s March 11 shutdown due to the new coronavirus pandemic, the Grizzlies announced Winslow could be making his return “within a week,” likely in a starting backcourt alongside Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant.

Such a pairing would have required Winslow to play more off the ball, an approach he appeared to resist with the Heat.

But had it worked, it could have opened a window into what still might have been with the Heat.

Now, the next step in Winslow’s development remains on hold, with the Heat left with what could turn out to be 14 games with Iguodala this season and then one season with Iguodala when he turns 37.

Then there is Waiters, who also was shipped to Memphis in that trade, then subsequently released by the Grizzlies.

For now, Waiters’ sum total of action this season remains three games with the Heat interspersed with three team suspensions.

At the time of the NBA shutdown, Waiters was five days into his tryout with the Los Angeles Lakers, yet to take the court in a game.

For all that had gone wrong with the Heat, Waiters remained intriguing. Still, he never suited up for the Heat in the playoffs, sidelined in the 2018 postseason by ankle surgery.

With the Lakers, there would have been playoffs, perhaps the opportunity for rotation role like he held in an 18-game postseason run with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016.

In the wake of his own team offering a concurrent tryout to Joakim Noah, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers noted of both Noah and Waiters, “At some point, in some playoff series, in one game, one of them or two of them are going to make a difference. If you can add guys that can tick off a win for you in the playoffs, it pays dividends.”

Then there is Whiteside, who was about to face his moment of truth with the Portland Trail Blazers, months after his offseason trade from the Heat.

Just shy of a year to the date from shattering his left leg, bulky big man Jusuf Nurkic was poised to make a March 15 return for the Blazers,

It was at the moment when clarity could have been offered whether the big-man chemistry could have worked, and therefore whether Whiteside, an impending free agent, might have been able to create a longer-term future with the Blazers, who have Nurkic under contract for the next two seasons.

“I think we’ll be a force out there,” Whiteside said on what was thought to be the eve of Nurkic’s return. “Even when we’re in a game, I think we can play minutes together and then we can rotate in and out.”

Instead, the return of Nurkic, like the NBA, remains on hold and in limbo.

So what becomes of Winslow, Waiters and Whiteside?


©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)