The Heat and Dolphins share the same town, but LeBron James insists the culture in his team's locker room never rises to the level of the alleged hazing and verbal abuse that's thrust the local NFL team under scrutiny.
James said Monday he doesn't know many of the details that have led to the Dolphins on Monday suspending offensive lineman Richie Incognito for conduct detrimental to the team. But James did say he's never been in a team environment where hazing and pranks got out of hand.
Incognito is alleged to have hazed, threatened and bullied teammate and fellow offensive lineman Johnathan Martin, who last week went on indefinite leave from the team after an incident in the Dolphins' cafeteria.
The two-time defending champion Heat usually generate much of the media buzz as the most scrutinized team in Miami. But the Dolphins saga – and the national reaction to it – has easily overshadowed the Heat's sluggish 2-2 start.
“I have no experience with bullying. Pranking? Yeah,” James said after Monday's practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. “It has to be a line. I've never been part of a team where we've crossed it. I can't relate to it. I know bullying is not something that I condone. Obviously (the Dolphins situation) has gone too far to get to the this point.”
Heat players have said their locker room culture involves plenty of pranks over the course of a season. But they also said everyone is potentially a target of the jokes, not just rookies, young players or newcomers to the team. Dwyane Wade said Monday that even coaches and team administrators are fair game, but that it's all in good fun.
“It all depends on the individual and how much each person can take,” Wade said. “We have a saying on this team that no one is safe. Anybody can get it around here. I like it better this way, where everyone is fair and it's not just the young guys. It's top players to guys who are not in the rotation as much, to coaches and the front office. No one is safe around here, so watch your backs.”
The Heat have been known to make fun of themselves. That was the case last season when they produced a Harlem Shake locker room video that went viral on the Internet and became part of their promotional package during last season's run to a second straight NBA title. There have been times in recent seasons when Wade would enter the locker room and find his uniform missing or his game shoes submerged in a massive ball of bubble-wrap.
Third-year point guard Norris Cole said he's had to occasionally carry luggage for veteran teammates or buy coffee or snacks for team flights, but nothing excessive.
“Rookies, when they play on teams, they've got duties that are a little overboard, but it comes with the territory,” James said. “But if it gets too far, that can become a problem. When I think of bullying, I think of it from my kids … who are in grade school. When you're younger, it can affect you. (But) I've never seen it (at) this level.”
Shooting slumps are nothing new for forward Shane Battier. So he vows not to get too down on himself amid a stretch in which he's missed 13 of his past 14 shots over the last three games. That also includes an 0-for-13 clip from 3-point range, where he's been one of the most accurate shooters on the team since joining the Heat two years ago.
“I'll figure it out,” Battier said. “If I don't figure it out, then I'll figure it out. That's it. There's only two answers. It'll work itself out. Either way, I'll work on it.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he doesn't want Battier to pass up shots during Tuesday's game in Toronto. Battier isn't quite sure what has contributed to his errant start, but coaches and teammates want him to fire his way out of it.
Spoelstra said Battier only creates problems in the offense when he's reluctant on open looks from 3-point range.
“My number one, major issue is, the next time he gets an open one, he's got to launch it,” Spoelstra said Monday. “And if it gets to a point where he's not, then I'll force him to launch it. If it's contested, I don't care. He's got to let it go. As a shooter, you've got to have an absolute green, neon light. The confidence from us, that doesn't waver. If he shoots 10 of them (Tuesday), I'll be the happiest guy in that building. And I don't even care how many he makes.”
Battier believes he'll eventually find consistency between all of the ups and downs with his shooting touch.
“That's my M.O. for the Heat now,” Battier said. “I've been extremely streaky, which is not the way I like to live. I think I'm pretty consistent in all facets of my life. When it's been good, it's been very good. When it's been bad, it's been very bad. I hope I can find some middle ground between those two extremes.
Spoelstra said there were no injury concerns heading into Tuesday's game against Toronto, although backup center Chris Andersen is still slowed by a right foot/leg bruise.
Did you know?
If James scores at least 10 points against the Raptors, he'll become only the fifth player in NBA history to reach double figures in 500 consecutive regular-season games. Michael Jordan (866), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (787 and 508), Karl Malone (575) and Moses Malone (526) were the others to accomplish that feat.
Quote of the day
“We're trying to figure it out. If you won a championship in the beginning of the season, we wouldn't be champions. It would be a lot of teams people didn't expect right now.”
- Dwyane Wade, on the Heat working through some struggles early in the season.