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Hassan Whiteside training with Heat Summer League team, excited for next season

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Whiteside looking forward to being a part of resurgent Heat team that has now re-signed Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic.

Surya Fernandez

As the media crowd files into the practice court while the Miami Heat's Summer League squad wraps up practice on Friday, we can see Hassan Whiteside calmly walking to the free throw line to practice his shot.

With his right hand fully healed from a nasty laceration he suffered on March 24 that affected not only his free throws but also his midrange shot, Whiteside has been working out at the AA Arena since the end of the regular season and is now practicing with the Summer League team in an effort to hone his skills and improve his game.

"Just talking to the other guys and working on my post game," he said of what he's getting out of working with the younger players. "Really getting more an understanding of the concept with defense on this team.

"I got Juwan Howard, he's been in the league for 19 years, and coach Spo won multiple championships. When you've got a group of guys like that really backing you up, everything else pretty much comes easy. You got film and you can work on your game and everything. It makes things very easy for me."

The fact that it's a contract year is just one more reason he wants to improve his overall game and skill set.

"It's just motivation but I've always had motivation coming in," he said. "Last year, it was the same motivation I had last year -- just proving people wrong and showing people I belong here."

He's also been hitting the gym so he can be even more of a dominant force out on the court once the season begins.

"I weigh about the same but I just got stronger and we've been bumping it up in the weight room," he said.

He isn't scheduled to actually play in either of the two upcoming tournaments in Orlando and in Las Vegas, but he will be traveling with the team.

"He's been here (before) but this is great for him to get five-on-five competition and drill our system," said head coach Erik Spoelstra. "He was not part of our training camp last year so this is a miniature version of it and for him to get an opportunity to get a ton of reps and practices.

"He's responded well. He's in very good shape and he's been training here for the last several weeks. He's been working in a lot of skill development and working on his strength and conditioning but he was looking forward to actually being out there and playing so I was happy that he's out there for these practices."

As Whiteside worked out while the NBA playoffs were in full swing, he said he preferred to keep his distance from teammates Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic and also when they went through the free agency process.

But he had a good feeling that they would return.

"I just gave them their space," he explained. "I didn't really talk to them much because I knew they had a lot going on. But I just knew they were going to make the right decision so I just believed in that.

"It's just excitement. Just coming back and having the family (together), this is a great group of guys. Just coming in for next year, I'm very excited."

With the core group back in the fold, Whiteside is confident the Heat can return to being an elite team in the East.

"Just make a deep playoff run and be a top NBA team," he responded when asked what his expectations for next season are.

Team president Pat Riley remarked after the season ended that he wanted Whiteside to step up and become a truly dominant force in the middle. Whiteside has taken that to heart and with former Heat legend Alonzo Mourning standing nearby after practice, he said he's up to the task.

"It's really a big honor," said Whiteside, "especially if Pat Riley, being a Hall of Fame guy, that he would say that and to entrust me with the ball. I'm down there and I'm going to look for it. I'm working every day to the best of my abilities to make the right decisions and the right moves at the right time."