Months after missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years, optimism and a sense of limitless possibilities ripple through the Heat, days away from the opening of training camp on Tuesday.
“I think this team has all of the elements of a championship team,” team president Pat Riley said on ESPN Radio earlier this month.
“As far as collective punch, I think we’re as good as anyone in the league,” Chris Bosh said. “We have huge ambitions for this group. We should shoot for outside the universe.”
“The sky is the limit for us,” Amar’e Stoudemire said Thursday outside a party given by The Forge restaurant and DuJour magazine to welcome him to the Heat. “From a roster standpoint, we match up with the best of them.”
But Luol Deng added this warning on 790 The Ticket: “If you name the guys on the team, it sounds good. But all of that doesn’t really matter if we’re not on the same page when we get on the court.”
Several issues bear monitoring when camp begins at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton on Tuesday. Among them:
▪ Coach Erik Spoelstra’s desire to push the ball. That suits Goran Dragic’s skill set, and Dragic has lobbied for that approach.
But can the rest of the roster keep up, including four key players in the second half of their careers: Dwyane Wade, Bosh, Deng and Stoudemire)?
Last season, Miami finished ahead of only Utah in pace, according to an ESPN formula. And the Heat was 29th in possessions per game (94.3). Conversely, Golden State averaged a league-high 101.7 possessions.
“You look at teams like Golden State, best team in the NBA, they played fast, but they’re also one of the best defensive teams in the league,” Wade said earlier this offseason. “You have to get stops to play fast. I welcome [a faster pace]. As long as we get stops, let’s go.”
Spoelstra said he will get a long look at his team in camp and in preseason games before determining what style best suits this roster. He could use a faster pace with some lineups and a more deliberate half-court approach with others.
▪ Bosh and Dragic developing a chemistry. The two didn’t play a single minute together last season because Dragic was acquired on the day Bosh’s blood clots were diagnosed.
Spoelstra said the Bosh/Dragic dynamic is the least of his concerns because their games complement each other’s so effectively.
“If you tried to craft a pick and pop, pick and roll game, those two guys would be near the top of your list,” Spoelstra said. “Both of them are looking forward to playing with each other. It’s a shame they didn’t have that opportunity last year.”
Bosh said he has watched a “ton” of film of Dragic to try to anticipate where Bosh would be on certain plays. “I have a very good feeling about how things are going to go,” Bosh said.
▪ Establishing Deng’s role. With Bosh and Josh McRoberts missing a lot of time last season, Deng too often was cast as a stand-still three-point shooter, and he said at the end of the season that “I’m better in motion. I don’t really like to just stand still. Not having someone like Josh definitely hurts my game.”
Last week, Deng was asked on the 790 The Ticket if he expects to go back to being more of a cutter instead of a spacer.
“Definitely, I want to get back there but at the same time, it helps me being familiar with the system,” he said. “Last year, being new to the system, and everything the team went through, it was difficult to be consistent. I’m not asking to have the ball in my hand all the times. My strength comes off what other guys are doing. I play off of other guys.”
Spoelstra said he and Deng spoke during the summer and “we’re both more comfortable. It does take time to build a relationship and comfort level. We started to hit our stride in the spring. Luol is coming in in terrific shape this year. I’m excited about him feeling more comfortable in our system.”
▪ Incorporating the rookies. Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson will need to earn any minutes they get. Richardson, who has impressed with his defensive acumen, stands fifth or sixth in the guard hierarchy, if Mario Chalmers isn’t traded. Winslow could earn backup minutes at small forward.
Spoelstra said he told the two rookie draft picks to “get in the gym and work. Make sure you don’t miss a drill, don’t miss a day. Both have been terrific with that. They’re in great shape, eager, hungry to learn our culture and system. The rest will take care of itself.”