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Hassan Whiteside came to Utah for a reason: He wanted to win

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) shoots as Portland Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside (21) defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) shoots as Portland Trail Blazers center Hassan Whiteside (21) defends in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. (Rusty Costanza, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Once Hassan Whiteside sat down for his first press conference as a member of the Utah Jazz, it didn't take long for the 7-foot-1 elephant in the room to be brought up: His relationship with Rudy Gobert.

In fact, that was the topic of the very first question.

Over the years, the two centers have traded quips on social media and through the press. So how are things between them now? According to Whiteside, everything is good. And, really, they always have been.

"There's no rivalry or anything. We were just competing," Whiteside said this week from Las Vegas. "At the end of the day, I'm always happy to see a big man succeed in the league, especially somebody that blocks shots the same as I do. There's never been any rivalry, but it's just been always us competing against each other. You know we're gonna talk."

And it's been watching what Gobert has done in Utah that made it such an attractive landing spot for Whiteside.

The Jazz have built a system around Gobert. On defense, the team funnels players into the paint where the intimidating Frenchman awaits. On offense, Gobert's screens are often the reason the "blender" is initiated, allowing for the Jazz's free flowing offense to run.

A winning team that values a shot-blocking, rim-running big man that much? It didn't take much else to convince Whiteside to come on board.

"Just the way these guys play, they're so spaced out," Whiteside said. "I think these are gonna be the best, the freest rolls I'll have in a long time."

Whiteside turned down other offers to come to the Jazz, including one from the Portland Trail Blazers, his former team that wanted him to return. Considering Portland was where he had one of his best individual seasons that says a lot about the opportunity Whiteside sees in Utah.

In 2019-20 with the Blazers, he averaged 15.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and led the league in blocks with 2.9 per game. He would have been comfortable going back and being teammates again with Damian Lillard, who called Whiteside "the best defensive center, shot-blocking center in the league" (a statement Gobert had some fun with following a Jazz win), but comfort and familiarity weren't at the top of his list.

What was? Joining a team that could compete for a title.

"Free agency this year, regardless of the money, I just wanted to go somewhere where we were going to win," Whiteside said. "I don't want to be at home watching the playoffs like I have the last two years. I wanted to go to a team that's ready to win now."

The Jazz, coming off a league-best record last season, are in position to do just that. And Whiteside thinks he can help.

"I think it's a great fit for me," he said. "With Gobert being out there and with me coming in, I think it's a great fit. I think they can keep that paint presence out there throughout the whole game."

While the Jazz have gotten more versatile at the center position with the acquisitions of Rudy Gay and Eric Paschall, there will be matchups where having two rim-protecting bigs could prove to be beneficial.

"I know what he's capable of doing, and his ceiling is still really high," Jazz guard Mike Conley said. "We're going to try and get as much out of him as we can, and make him the best player that he can be for this team. He could definitely be a game-changer for our team."

Whiteside thinks so, too, and that's why he chose to come to the Jazz.

"I'm really excited," he said. "I haven't been this excited in a long time."

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