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Will Hassan Whiteside's potential allow him to cash in after next season?

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The Heat's starting center prefers to look ahead to his first full season in Miami, but if he continues to progress he'll be in line for a huge pay raise.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When Hassan Whiteside was signed to the Miami Heat it immediately after Shannon Brown was cut. Many fans at the time just rolled their eyes because Whiteside could have been just another Greg Oden or Eddy Curry project and the team had cut athleticism for a project big.

Then you really saw what kind of a player Whiteside was. The goofy man child who blocked shots with no degree of difficulty. The man child who sometimes let the child version of him take over in immature moments against the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns. At the end of the season, everyone walked away gushing at the potential Whiteside offered. There's no way around the truth; Whiteside's growth will dictate how far Miami can contend for years to come.

Well...it turns out ESPN understands this too.

According to Amin Elhassan of ESPN, Whiteside is projected to make an average of $18.8 million dollars starting next summer. Yes, you read that right, and yes the same player that's getting $981,000 this season. Elhassan says his final number came from evaluating "age, injury history, value of recent comparable player contracts, irreplaceability of skill set, contribution to winning, history of production, fit with style and culture, marketability and current cap situation, among other things."

First off, here's what Whiteside said to Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel about hearing his own projected income:  "I don't really get caught up in the numbers. I'm just excited that I get to play with the Heat for another year. I'm not really thinking about the numbers right now, until free agency. I'm just really excited about this season."

Good to see him choose the politically correct answer, but that doesn't mean it's not on his mind in a contract year. This will be the first full training camp for Whiteside. He will have a pass-first point guard and the ability to get double digits in rebounds in both sides of the floor due to Chris Bosh being a jump shooter and a stretch four. He also won't have all the attention centered on him because of Dwyane Wade. So Hassan has all the tools to have a breakout season and I can see why ESPN thinks so.

The question is now how far do you think you can get with Whiteside playing at his max potential? Yes, he will be an integral piece of the puzzle but do you give up your shot at making a serious run at Kevin Durant or another established star? The bottom line is, this next season affects Whiteside more than anyone else on the roster in terms of money wise AND performance on the court.