Pat Riley wore blue jeans to the first day of Heat training camp, and the sleeves of his plaid shirt were rolled up to the elbows. Either the boss was trying to imitate The Boss, or Riley was sending a message:
The Heat is adopting a blue-collar mentality for this season, and it’s time to put in some work.
How many times has Dwyane Wade seen Riley in blue jeans?
“Not many,” Wade said Saturday after a difficult first session of camp. “It’s always shocking every time he comes in with some jeans on. They’re like bell-bottoms, though. They’re probably the same jeans he had in L.A.”
So Riley’s dungarees didn’t exactly fit the Springsteen motif, but the outfit had the desired effect. With Riley, owner Micky Arison and several other team executives watching from the practice court’s sideline, the Heat ended its first session with a set of wind sprints. Chris Andersen and newcomer Luol Deng led the pack throughout the drill.
“There’s nothing more fun than being with a group of guys who are experienced and are excited to go and battle,” said Deng, the Heat’s new small forward. “Everyone around here is very serious.”
The Heat, of course, has always prided itself on hard work, but coach Erik Spoelstra has been preaching his tenets of toughness with eager desire at the start of a training camp that features more new faces than familiar ones, and more uncertainty than the franchise has experienced in five years.
How Chris Bosh transitions from role player to a once-and-future focal point, how Deng fills the void left by LeBron James and how the team replaces sharpshooters Shane Battier, Ray Allen and James Jones are all questions that will be answered soon enough. But, as Riley and Spoelstra like to borrow from Martin Luther King Jr., the “urgency of now” is about reestablishing defense.
“Building habits,” as Spoelstra has said — many times.
The Heat’s coach has charged co-captains Wade and Udonis Haslem with setting positive examples in practice for the younger players.
“U.D. is a Heat lifer,” Spoelstra said. “He understands what the Heat culture and Heat code is all about as much as anybody other than Dwyane, and not only cultivating that culture, but teaching it to all the new players is the most important thing.
“U.D. will be ready regardless of what his role is, and be ready to play both the four or five, but the leadership is the most important thing and he understands that.”
Haslem said he will be a vocal presence this week and throughout the preseason.
“Just getting guys in the right spots and explaining things to them; just making guys feel comfortable with the way we do things around here,” Haslem said. “It’s a little different than the way you do things at other organizations, so I just want this transition for these guys to be as easy as possible.”
Losing James has forced Spoelstra and his staff to make changes defensively, but Deng’s skills on that side of the court should ease the transition. His ability was apparent Saturday. It was Deng who gave James fits at times during the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, and, at 29 years old, he is still regarded as an elite two-way player.
“I’ve been in the league 11 years and I’m still improving,” Deng said. “I would never try to replace anybody no matter if they’re better than me or I’m better than somebody. We all bring different things. The biggest mistake I would make is try to be LeBron. I’m not LeBron.”
Whereas Haslem’s form of leadership this week will be that of vocal teacher, Wade will be transitioning back into the team’s top option from the wing. He cut weight this offseason to lessen the strain on his knees and his hope is to play a large bulk of the upcoming regular season. He sat out 28 games last season because of injury or prescribed rest.
“I have a different role now and I have to step into that role,” he said. “There’s an adjustment period always when you have to do something, but I’ve done it all, so it ain’t really nothing new — just something I have to get back comfortable with.”
Haslem isn’t worried about Wade’s preparation. It was clear what needed to happen the moment James informed the Heat he was returning to Cleveland.
“Going into the summer, once the decision was made, everyone understood what they had to do,” Haslem said. “So Dwyane’s been working, I’ve been working, C.B. has been working. I’m excited about the young guys and the veterans coming in and right now we’re not where we’re supposed to be, but we’ve got the right mind-set. We came out ready to work.”
▪ Andersen showed up for picture day Friday with a five-inch long goatee, but he shaved off the facial hair for the first day of camp.