For three Heat veterans on Miami’s summer league roster, the euphoria of winning an NBA title has been replaced by the stark reality that they must polish and augment their skills this summer to either retain or carve out more significant roles on a veteran-laden team.
For Norris Cole, improvement is essential to give Erik Spoelstra incentive to give him regular minutes instead of using a steady three-guard rotation of Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen.
For Dexter Pittman, development is critical to have any chance of unseating Joel Anthony for the primary backup center job.
And for Terrel Harris, growth is vital to motivate the Heat to offer him a new contract.
A former Heat player, 6-11 center Mickell Gladness, joined Miami’s summer league team this week after Golden State bypassed making him a qualifying offer.
All four will play on the Heat team that traveled to Las Vegas on Friday to play five summer league games in seven days, beginning Sunday.
Harris, an unrestricted free agent, said the Heat hasn’t made an offer, but he is optimistic about returning and plans to spend the summer working in the Heat’s program.
Harris, a 6-4 guard, had some moments as a rookie, including a 9-point, 14-rebound game Jan. 5 in Atlanta, but shot just 34.9 percent from the field (29 for 83).
“We would like to see him improve his long-range shooting and play-making ability,” Heat president Pat Riley said. “Can he handle the ball? Yes. Can he bring it up the court and enter us into an offensive set? Yes. Can he be a point guard? That would be a stretch. But I would play him as a scoring point guard if I had to.”
Developing his ball-handling skills will be a priority.
“We won’t have him play point a lot, but we will have him handle so we’ll get the ball to him in the half-court offense and let him initiate some offense,” said Heat assistant David Fizdale, who is coaching Miami’s summer league team. “So if we wanted to play him with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and no point guard, even though we know LeBron is really the point guard, T-Harris can get them off the ball a little. The talent is there. The guy is super fast.”
Riley also expects more from Pittman, whose $854,369 salary for next season is guaranteed: “We are going to give him a great shot and expect this year he might be able to really contribute.”
The 6-11 1/2 Pittman, who weighs 280 pounds after ballooning to nearly 400 in high school, was told to reduce his body fat from 12.75 to the 10 to 12 percent range. “More than anything, defensively, we want to see if he can get faster,” Fizdale said.
Pittman (3.0 points, 2.0 rebounds in 35 games) averaged one foul every 4.1 minutes last season, a ratio that must improve.
“That’s one of our things we want to focus on with him: Can you defend without fouling? Can you play offense without running people over?” Fizdale said. “His conditioning is getting to where he can play longer stretches, but his decision-making on the fouls is what sometimes takes him out of games.”
Eager to expand his shooting range, Pittman returned to the gym three days after The Finals. He has been studying tapes of Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard and views this summer “like I’m auditioning for a job.”
Cole ended the season well — with eight key points in the first half of Game 4 of the Finals — but said he must improve at reading defenses when he comes off screens, finishing more efficiently in the paint and shooting jumpers (he shot 39.3 percent from the field).
“He’s had a very good camp and taken the challenge to be the lead guy here,” Fizdale said. “I got on him [Monday] at practice about being more vocal, yelling out the plays. He’s got to have a bigger voice.
“We’re developing him to be an attacker. He’s going to Vegas with the intent to destroy whoever he’s playing against. He has to stay hungry and play this summer like a guy that did not win a title.”
Gladness spent nine weeks with the Heat last season, appearing in eight games before being released, then joined Golden State and averaged 3.0 points and 2.6 rebounds in 18 appearances.
“Everybody wanted him here, but it was a business decision we had to make bringing in Ronny Turiaf,” Fizdale said. “We’ve always been very excited about Gladness — that kind of length, speed, athleticism. He’s gotten a little better offensively. A little more weight on his body, he can be a serviceable big. This kid comes with more tools than Joel Anthony to start.”
Gladness, who doesn’t get a championship ring because he was cut before the playoffs, said he was rooting for the Heat in postseason, but “when they won it, it was bittersweet.”