Sunday, October 6, 2013
Repeating the question again for Spoelstra
By Michael Wallace
MIAMI – This time a year ago, coach Erik Spoelstra tried to ban the term "repeat" from the Miami Heat's vocabulary as they set out to capture back-to-back NBA titles.
Now, Spoelstra is publicly embracing the challenging burden as the Heat try to become only the fourth team in league history to win three consecutive championships.
So why the tweak in approach?
Perhaps a lucrative contract extension, an even deeper confidence in a LeBron James-led roster that returns almost completely intact and a collective determination to chase history yet again all have something to do with it.
“They understand what we're playing for,” Spoelstra said as the Heat enter Sunday's scrimmage at AmericanAirlines Arena. “There's a level of excitement leading up to the season. We understand this season does mean something. It's not insignificant and it's not dreadful. If you don't have passionate guys that love the game, that love to play for something significant, then yeah, the mental fatigue and all the excuses you can come up with can be an issue.”
The Heat play their preseason opener Monday night at home against Atlanta. But Spoelstra, entering his sixth season and now the longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference, is already in mid-season motivational mode.
It seems nearly impossible to top a historic season that saw the Heat win a franchise-record 66 games, establish the second-longest winning streak in NBA history at 27 straight victories and then notch Game 7 wins in both the conference and NBA Finals. Don't tell that to Spoelstra.
From LeBron's next frontier to closing in on the league's latest dynasty, here's Spoelstra's take on 10 key topics as the Heat gear up for what could be another magical ride.
1. On his multi-year contract extension and future … “I know how tough it is to win in this league. There are so many things that go on behind the scenes. You want to work with people you trust. You want to work with people who have your back, not [only] after you win, but also after times like a 9-8 [start] two years ago. You want to have people you can trust, that are in the trenches with you. We've been through virtually everything you can go through together. I want to grow. I want to continue to improve and they've been great at facilitating that.”
2. LeBron's next mission … “LeBron is self-motivated. He's a special dude in that he's always going to stay in a state of uncomfortableness. He wants to add different elements. And this year, it would be great to see him be acknowledged for the defensive work. There's no one else in the league that can do what he does. He's been banging on that door, getting close. I don't want it to be a campaign. It has to be earned. But he has that type of potential to be defensive player of the year.”
3. The approach with Greg Oden … “The expectation is to come in here and have an opportunity to work, to get healthy. But more than anything, we just want to see him get back out there and have a smile on his face and do what he loves. He's had some setbacks, but that does not define his whole career. I'm going into it with an open mind, no expectations. There's certainly no timetable. He's in here five hours a day. He's doing more and more. The biggest test with us is, can we add to the workload and see how he feels the next day, without the timetable of having to perform? If it happens two months from now, three, who knows. We're going into it with an open mind. We'll see what happens.”
4. Facing a more stacked Eastern Conference … “The nature of our game is evolving and changing every single year. It'll continue to have to evolve. And if it doesn't, we'll become extinct. That's important because our competition has gotten better, they're gearing up, loading up to beat us. You have to embrace that. We've always wanted to be one of these teams where you play and win when other teams try to load up and beat you. And they want what we've been able to accomplish. So you have to be able to continue to evolve and not stay stagnant.”
5. What to expect from Dwyane Wade … “Motivation-wise, he understands what this team has been put together for, probably more than any other player on the team, because he helped us put this thing together as the face of our franchise. Health-wise, he's had a great summer. He was able to rest. It was such a big storyline during the playoffs. What disappointed me was that people lost perspective of what he was actually doing. He had a very healthy year all the way up to the Boston game of the 27-game win streak. He played through it with the doctors' and our trainers' support, knowing that it couldn't get worse but that it wouldn't get better either. He did take a lot of criticism, but he's a warrior for playing through that. I think he's ready to go and I think he's very motivated for the opportunity for what we have to play for.”
6. On Michael Beasley's return … “It's a totally different role than he had the last time. He's at a different point in his career and his life. We're excited about just bringing him back in our organization and everything that comes with it. The culture, the discipline, the structure. We'll go into it with an open canvas.”
7. Overall level of comfort with this team … “Give it time. Something will happen. Not once. Not twice. It'll happen several times. You have to go through [adversity]. At least we've been through the experiences before. It's going to be tough. The competition has gotten better. There are a lot of narratives out there. We can pick any one of them and make them an excuse of why we can't compete for it this year. But more than anything, our guys sense it's not a matter of, 'Can we?' For us, it's how.
8. Critics questioning a fourth straight Finals trip … “Who comes up with that? Mostly teams that haven't been. I'm sure our competition is probably trying to drive that narrative out there, trying to get into our subconsciousness. We can convince ourselves of anything. What we have is a tremendous opportunity. And we have a very highly motivated group of guys in that locker room and they understand what we're playing for. And that's what it is.”
9. Whether a third straight title constitutes a dynasty … “That's rhetoric, probably, for you guys [media] to talk about. It's not something I talk about with the team. It's neither here nor there or right or wrong. I just choose not to. It's October. Get ourselves ready for Game 1 and take it from there. And if you start talking that we'll handle it in the playoffs, then you're preparing yourself to get beat.”
10. Might this be the last run for James, Wade and Bosh … “What we talk about all the time is just focus on now. Focus on now and not become obsessed with the future, because it's unknown. That's the way we've treated it. We'll focus on this, understanding that the future will happen. It'll be a great storyline for a little bit. But it'll probably be a bigger storyline out there than in our locker room. We've dealt with quite a few storylines over the years.”