MIAMI -- Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside's All-Star break got started early when he was sent home by the team soon after he was ejected from Tuesday's blowout 119-101 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
Whiteside was immediately tossed at the 9:35 mark of the fourth quarter when he swung an elbow in apparent frustration toward the head of Spurs center Boban Marjanovic as they battled for position near the free throw line.
Whiteside remained on the court for several moments as game officials reviewed the altercation. He was assessed a flagrant foul 2, which resulted in an automatic ejection and a one-game suspension. Heat teammates said Whiteside had already left the arena by the time they returned to the locker room after the game, and coach Erik Spoelstra confirmed that Whiteside was told to leave.
"That's something we'll deal with with Hassan," Spoelstra said. "We don't condone that kind of play. We've been through this with him before. But it's a disappointing play. That's not a basketball play."
Whiteside finished with 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 25 minutes off the bench.
Marjanovic indicated after the game that Whiteside's elbow did make contact, but that he did not believe there was malicious intent. Regardless, the Heat have pointed to previous incidents when they've dealt with Whiteside's inability to maintain composure on the court during games.
Last season, Whiteside, 26, was ejected from a March 9 home game against Boston after delivering a forearm blow to the back of Kelly Olynyk's back and neck. A week earlier, Whiteside was ejected for his role in an altercation on the court with Phoenix Suns center Alex Len, who was also tossed and fined.
Whiteside, the NBA's leader in blocked shots, has avoided similar altercations on the court this season in what is a contract year. He'll enter free agency this summer after earning $990,000 in the second season of a two-year deal he signed with Miami. Whiteside is in line for a major contract in free agency that could be in the range of $80 million over four years, according to some NBA projections.
Teammates who have mostly tried to keep Whiteside in line expressed disappointment over his setback.
"You never turn your back on your teammate, but at the same time you are not always in a position to grab someone's hand and walk them through every step of the way," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "He has been pretty good to this point [in the season]. Everyone has a lapse in judgement and obviously he had one. ... Sometimes, we don't know what he is thinking, but like I said, we support each other."
Heat forward Chris Bosh, who serves as a team co-captain with Wade, said Whiteside needs to better understand there's a lot at stake for him this season. Whiteside ranks among the top 10 players in the league in blocks, rebounds and field goal percentage and averages 12.2 points, 11 boards and 3.9 blocks per game. If the flagrant 2 isn't reduced on an appeal to the league, Whiteside would serve his suspension when the Heat return from the All-Star break for a Feb. 19 game in Atlanta.
"The next step for him is really learning about reputation," Bosh said. "Unfortunately, he's taken a step back. You have to build your reputation back up. Whether it's right or wrong, whether he made contact or not, I really don't know. But people see that and tend to expect certain things."