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Here's how LeBron started a not-controversy controversy with Hassan Whiteside

Hassan Whiteside went MarShawn Lynch today at the Heat's morning shootaround when he refused to answer questions about tonight's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a bad look for Whiteside, who generally is friendly and outgoing with everybody.

So, what got Whiteside so bent out of shape? It all started with an innocent comment he made on Tuesday about playing against LeBron James. The Heat defeated James and the Cavaliers on Christmas Day, but Whiteside had a limited role in the upset. The 7-foot center hadn't yet morphed into the rim-protecting, backboard-cleaning monster he was in January. So, now that Whiteside is playing a more advanced role, and he's the focal point of the Heat's defense, it was only natural for reporters to ask Whiteside about going against LeBron. Whiteside called LeBron a "good player" before noting that it wasn't his assignment to guard the four-time MVP.

"I'll just meet him at the rim," Whiteside concluded.

Those comments went out on Twitter, and apparently they caught LeBron's all-seeing eye. Now fast-forward to Wednesday morning after the Cavaliers' shootaround. Asked a simple question about Whiteside, LeBron decided to have a little fun...

QUESTION: LeBron, Hassan Whiteside has been one of the more surprising stories in the NBA the first half of the season. What are your thoughts about him and his emergence out of nowhere?

LEBRON: "He's a big. He's huge. He is very long, athletic, but he's just a big guy, and in our league where there are not that many guys like him with his size, he is able to get a lot of rebounds, change a lot of shots at the rim, and he has a really good touch, as well, around the rim. And they have been looking for him, too.

"It's a huge pick up for them, for sure. I know a lot of teams wish they had him. He was up in Memphis earlier in the season, and Miami lucked up on something and it's good. I'm happy for them. I'm happy for the kid more than anything ... even though he just thinks I'm a good player, I'm happy for him."

Now, understand, LeBron was joking. He smiled afterwards. But he knew exactly what he was doing by pointing out a perceived slight. After the interview he walked past me and said, "You're tweeting that out right now, right?"

OK ... so then I get in the rental car and drive from the Cavs' training facility back into the city for Heat shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena. Here's the transcript of Whiteside's interview...

TRANSCRIPT

QUESTION: LeBron said this morning that he knows you think he's a good player, and that he's happy for you and what you've been able to accomplish this season. [LAUGHS] You looking forward to going up against him tonight?

WHITESIDE: "Yeah, man, y'all just blew that up way out of proportion, but, I mean, I don't really know what to say. I don't got nothing to say."

QUESTION: As you've become more of a pubic figure ... do you find yourself ... I don't say more careful of what you say, but just sort of appreciate...

WHITESIDE: "I don't got nothing to say."

QUESTION (conti.) : ... there's a different media spotlight?

WHITESIDE: "I don't got nothing to say. I don't got nothing to say."

QUESTION: What's the issue? What happened?

WHITESIDE: "I don't got nothing to say." [To a PR person.] "Let me know when my time is up."

QUESTION: What happened?

WHITESIDE: [Walks away.]

So, that's how players like LeBron can use the media — intentionally, unintentionally, doesn't really matter — in the age of Twitter to generate what I like to call not-controversy controversies. The end game: LeBron, now a master in the art of gamesmanship, got in a player's head before a game.

SEE ALSO: Kevin Love.

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