When Hassan Whiteside left Sacramento this past offseason searching for a new home, there were numerous opportunities for the 7-foot big man. 

But for Whiteside, he didn’t want to go to just any team. After playing for Miami, Portland, and Sacramento the past three seasons, he admitted that he wanted to go to a team that not only had a chance to win a ring but accepted him for who he is.

Now just over a quarter into the season, and it appears that Whiteside has finally found his home — with the Utah Jazz.

“I never felt like I actually got to show what I can do in Sacramento,” Whiteside said. “That’s always one of those places where I always felt like I never got to show Hassan Whiteside there. At this point in my career, I just want to win. … I felt that Utah, with its style of play, was the perfect fit.”

When Whiteside elected to sign with Utah, a few in the media met his decision with skepticism. 

After all, the Jazz already had a bonafide center in Rudy Gobert, an all-star and three-time defensive player of the year. Many assumed Whiteside would want to go to a team where he could establish himself as a starter again — not backup the best defensive player in the league.

But because Utah uses Gobert as a central part of its offense and defense, Whiteside couldn’t think of a better team to join. He said he heard from Gobert almost immediately after signing with the team and then had a deep talk with head coach Quin Snyder — a coach he’s always wanted to play for — on what he could expect this season.

“Hassan’s in a really good place,” Snyder said. “I’m really glad he’s here. I felt strongly when I talked to him that we would be a really good fit for him, and I think he’s feeling that.”

Throughout his search for a new team, Whiteside alluded to the fact that he wanted to go to a team with a veteran presence. After spending last year with the Kings, one of the youngest squads in the league, Whiteside was hoping to be part of an organization where he could relate more to his new teammates.

He’s found that in the snowy mountains of the Mountain West.

From the group text messages to the nightly team dinners and video games they stream together, the Jazz have an authentic “family” atmosphere that Whiteside is a part of.

“It’s so cool how close this team is. … I haven’t been on a team that’s this close,” he said. “A lot of people say, ‘Hey, we’re a close team, hey we do this together.’ Nah. This is really like a close-knit group. It’s great. I love it.”

That sort of comfort off the court has translated to Whiteside’s play on the court.

In 15.4 minutes per game, he’s averaging 7.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks on the year. His net rating of 12.8 ranks third on the team and 16th in the NBA for players coming off the bench.

“He’s been great for us so far,” Gobert said. “He’s really providing a presence. He’s been effective on both ends.”

While those are sensational numbers in short stints, Whiteside’s primary contribution has come by doing the small things. His passion, energy, and physicality are what’s allowed the second unit to get even better — and this comes after already having the top two finishers for the sixth man of the year award.

“Anytime you have a player that plays with passion, I mean that’s indicative of the fact that he cares and that emotion and that energy can feed a team,” Snyder said of Whiteside. “Anytime you add emotion to competitiveness, that’s rocket fuel.”

That passion and competitiveness are helping drive Utah as arguably the deepest team in the league, one that should pay massive dividends come April, May, and June. Until that time comes, Whiteside will keep doing what he does, intending to bring Salt Lake City its first championship.

“Yeah, it would be cool to do that. … It would be cool to bring the city its first title. That’s what we playing for,” Whiteside said.


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