But uncertainty can be a good thing, especially for a team that might have needed some extra motivation this offseason after winning its second title in a row. Fear of the unknown manifested itself into a team this preseason that was more focused and prepared for the regular season than at any other time since 2010.
“I’m most impressed about how motivated the guys came into camp this year,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We talked about it in our very last meeting after the parade and we mentioned that we wanted to enjoy it … but at the same time when the calendar started to turn toward late July and August, that if we’re really serious about the opportunity for the challenge of this next season and chasing a new title, then we would prove it with our fitness.”
Spoelstra told his players that rather than focusing on basketball drills over the summer. They should concentrate on “fitness, nutrition and staying in shape, and keeping bodies ready and strong.”
“That was significant,” Spoelstra said. “So, when we came into the Bahamas we were able to fast track the process of building the game.”
Nearly every player, according to Spoelstra, reported to training camp “either in the same shape or better shape when we left in June.”
For example, Mario Chalmers, who has never been celebrated for his fitness, is carrying a chiseled frame into the regular season as if he trained in his native Alaska this offseason alongside Arctic commandos.
“Just doing my part,” Chalmers said. “I don’t want to let anybody down.”
Then there is Ray Allen, whose body is so ridiculously defined that he looks like something out of a comic book. Entering his 18th season in the league, Allen said he might be in the best shape of his career to begin a season. For Allen, whose commitment to conditioning is legendary, that’s quite the pronouncement.
Of course, Wade’s transformation has been the most encouraging. He retooled his body this offseason in the hopes of taking more pressure off of his knees, and so far it has worked. Wade was injured each of the past two postseasons, his knees aren’t getting any younger and his game is tied to his athleticism even more so than James. In order to preserve himself for the long 82-game season, Wade will be communicating with coaches and trainers constantly and taking rest when needed. He missed 13 games last season, and that number isn’t expected to decrease.
“Ideally I would like to play every game that we can play, so that’s my goal,” Wade said. “But when I go into the season and whether it’s practice or other things, I’m just going to be smart about it. Our coaches are very open to what I feel I need from my body from day to day.”
Getting Wade to the finish line healthy and pain free is one of the Heat’s most important goals this season. As James will openly tell you, the future of this team might depend on it.
“Without him, man, this ship doesn’t continue to move without him, and I hope he knows that,” James said. “I think he knows that because he’s a big part of what we do.”