- Michael Wallace, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
MIAMI -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade shaking the offseason rust and getting their legs back under them?
Coach Erik Spoelstra seeing just enough to be encouraged by the play of his primary, nine-man rotation?
Greg Oden overcoming nearly a four-year layoff due to chronic knee problems to battle his way back onto an NBA court again?
Check, check, check.
There aren't many task remaining on the Miami Heat's to-do list as they enter their eighth and final preseason tuneup in advance of Tuesday's season opener against Chicago.
With James and Wade likely to see limited minutes if they play at all in Friday's game against Brooklyn, Spoelstra will get an extended look at the reserves who will fill the final roster spots on what shapes up as the deepest bench Miami has had in their run of three straight Finals appearances.
“It's almost like I wouldn't want to be Spo in that situation because he's got so many people to choose from,” veteran guard Ray Allen said. “We're in that position again where there will be some guys that won't play, and we'll be fine with it because we've got so many out there that can play.”
The Heat's roster still stood at 17 players entering the weekend, which is two above the league maximum. That appears to give young camp hopefuls Eric Griffin and Justin Hamilton a bit more time to make a strong, late push. But it's expected that Oden, Michael Beasley and Roger Mason Jr. will claim the final three roster spots and join 12 players held over from last season's championship run.
Miami's Big Three -- James, Wade and Chris Bosh -- have used the past four weeks to condition themselves into the regular-season form as they look to lead the team to a third consecutive title. But it's been the Heat's Back Three -- Oden, Beasley and Mason -- who have provided the most compelling stories during the preseason as they attempt to hitch their way onto a team looking to make history.
A night after playing in his first NBA game in nearly four years, Oden was back at the Heat's practice facility during the team's day off Thursday to continue working on his conditioning. Oden had a dunk on his first touch and played four minutes in Wednesday's victory against New Orleans.
Although Spoelstra has said the cameo appearance was a reward for Oden's hard work and positive attitude and progress during training camp, it remains unclear if the former No. 1 overall pick will play Friday against the Nets.
Oden has said he would only consider it progress when he gets to the point where he's able to practice and/or play on consecutive days without troublesome swelling in his knees. Three micro-fracture knee surgeries have limited Oden to just 82 games since he was drafted by Portland in 2007.
Oden has both knees measured by the Heat's training staff before and after workouts to monitor any swelling.
Despite Wednesday night's breakthrough moment, the Heat have said the plan is to maintain patience and long-term perspective with Oden's potential role with the team.
Being at the back end of a team's rotation will also be an unfamiliar role for Beasley, who is back with the Heat for a second stint and trying to make good on a one-year contract. Beasley got a glimpse of what could be his routine role -- if he sticks -- as James' backup, which only offered a couple of minutes of action in the first half in New Orleans.
If James and Wade sit out or play sparingly, Beasley could see his most extended playing time of the preseason Friday. But throughout the process, he has accepted his potential playing time and his contract come with no guarantees.
“I'm just going to stay ready, stay loose,” said Beasley, who has averaged nine points and three rebounds in 13 minutes over four preseason games. “And when my number is called, I'm going to try to go out there and play to the best of my ability. I'm just more happy we got better as a team.”
Spoelstra has taken notice of Beasley's development and professional maturity over the course of the preseason. Beasley's attendance during voluntary workout sessions that had been designed for young prospects and roster long-shots was encouraging signs to the veterans and coaches.
“He's been diligent … coming in every single day early, an hour before, doing all the pre-practice work with all of our young guys,” Spoelstra said. “That's become even an open optional session, even with our veterans. LeBron jumped in one. Ray's jumped in one. Roger Mason has been in all of them. Michael is not considered a young guy, but he's been doing it voluntarily. He's been making progress. He's trying to learn, acclimate himself to how we do things.”
Waiting one's turn to have an impact on the court is part of that process for the Heat, especially among those who typically fall in line behind the eight or nine players Spoelstra uses as part of the regular playing rotation.
Those have proved to be some feast or famine scenarios. James Jones, Mike Miller and Rashard Lewis saw their roles fluctuate from weeks of inactivity to spot-duty starting assignments -- with very little in-between -- last season. Mason knows opportunities to play will be sporadic.
But the chance to be a part of a championship-level team appears to be well worth the wait. Mason turned down more lucrative deals and the promise of more playing time elsewhere to sign a non-guaranteed contract with Miami.
When training camp opened, Mason seemed to be a long-shot to make the 15-man roster. But after shooting 44,4 percent from 3-point range and averaging 7.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in five exhibitions, Mason's experience and versatility as a combo guard will likely keep him around.
“I knew what the situation was when I came here,” Mason said recently. “But I also know the type of player I am and how I can fit in. You want to the chance to be a part of something special, no matter what role you have to play. I came here knowing that I can help this team in a lot of ways.”
From the Big Three to the Back Three, Miami's roster is regular-season ready. And stocked with intriguing possibilities.
MIAMI -- LeBron James and Dwyane Wade shaking the offseason rust and getting their legs back under them?Check.Coach Erik Spoelstra seeing just enough to be encouraged by the play of his primary, nine-man rotation?