For three Heat players who are hardly finished products, varying challenges accompanied them to the start of training camp Tuesday in Boca Raton.
For Justise Winslow, there’s the looming deadline on a contract extension.
For Josh Richardson, there’s the challenge of taking his offensive game to the elite level that his defensive game has reached.
And for Tyler Johnson, there’s the burden of greater expectations after a salary spike from $5.8 million the past two seasons to $19.2 million each of the next two as part of a backloaded contract that was initially offered by the Brooklyn Nets and matched by the Heat.
All three were introspective about their situations this week:
▪ For Johnson, his new financial status — he ranks 50th among players in salary this season ahead of John Wall, Klay Thompson, Goran Dragic and Draymond Green, among others — began to sink in recently.
“It’s surreal because I got one check and I’m like, ‘Holy [bleep],’” he said. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m going to make a big check this year. I’m sure people get criticized all the time. It’s how they take it.”
So no added pressure from the pay spike? “I already knew it was coming. Even before the salary spike, I was like: ‘[I signed for] $50 million?’ I’ve been groomed in this for two years already.”
Johnson knows more is needed after experiencing drops in scoring (13.7 to 11.7), three point shooting (37.2 percent to 36.7) and assist to turnover ratio.
“Am I going to change for the better or am I going to change for the worse?” he said. “I want to put together a full season of consistent, consistent play [where] every night you know what you’re going to get and [be] someone who can produce at a very high level because I know I can.”
Erik Spoelstra said he hasn’t discussed the salary spike with Johnson but that it’s “unfortunate” if it becomes a storyline.
▪ For Richardson, the mission was made clear when Spoelstra flew to Santa Barbara, California, to meet with him this summer. Spoelstra told “me he wants me to a leader and wants to be aggressive” offensively, Richardson said.
On the offensive front, Richardson believes he can become an 18 point per game scorer, at the least. After averaging 12.9 last season, has spent the summer “working on handling and creating for myself and others and finding guys when they cut. A lot of times before, I would see it but too late.
“Having to stay aggressive every possession has been a big thing. I want to be one of the guys we really lean on on the offensive end. And use my athleticism. I haven’t dunked it as much but I’ve been trying to do it a lot more, because I know I can get up there.”
And this: “I have always been a guy that has to call for a ball screen or something to catch and shoot. I need to be able to attack more if I have space.”
Everyone knows he can defend brilliantly; he was the only NBA player last season with at least 121 steals and 75 blocks.
To polish his leadership skills, Richardson spoke with Luol Deng and Chris Bosh, who told him “not to force it.” He also spoke to leader supreme Udonis Haslem, who told Richardson he’s similar to Bosh in that he doesn’t talk a lot but people listen when he does.
“I’ve got to be more vocal,” Richardson said.
His salary also rises significantly, with his four-year, $42 million extension kicking in this season.
▪ For Winslow, the goal is not being distracted by ongoing conversations about a contract extension before a looming Oct. 15 deadline and continuing his offensive evolution. The Heat and Winslow have not yet seriously discussed financial specifics of a new deal but more discussions are planned, per a Heat source.
Offensively, three-point shooting improved markedly last season (from 20 percent to 38 percent) but his finishing skills still need work; he shot 55.8 percent on shots at the rim last season (106 for 190) and said he’s focusing on that, plus scoring “at all levels, midrange, floaters, pull ups.”
He would love to play point guard when needed and “I think I will have that responsibility again, at least having the ball in my hands and bringing it up.”
Asked if he would take on more point guard duties, Spoelstra said: “I’m open to all of it. We had a pretty good vision of what direction it was going last year and I want to build on that and see if we can take it another step” and “exploring the versatility in more ways that will help us.”
He appreciates how Wade brought him and Haslem for a mini training camp and alone time in California a few weeks ago – other teammates were invited but couldn’t make it — and said the “way [Wade] has taken me under his wing since he’s been back is a great feeling.”
And Winslow said even if he doesn’t get a contract extension before the deadline, he’s OK with entering restricted free agency next summer.
“It’s tough with these talks and everything going on,” he said. “[But] whether we get the contract done or not – [and] I would love to get it done — I have no intent of going anywhere. Whether it’s this fall or next summer, I’m sure we are going to figure something out. Having personal conversation with the front office and everyone top to bottom in there, coaches and teammates, I’m very comfortable where I am.”
▪ Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau today, on Jimmy Butler’s trade request: “We’re going to honor his request but we’re not going to do a bad deal.... We’re trying to make the best deal for the Timberwolves.”
The Heat remains among those involved in trade discussions, and ESPN reported Sacramento - which has cap space - could be included as a third team to help facilitate a trade.
▪ All six Heat preseason games will be televised on Fox Sports Sun, beginning with the 5 p.m. Sunday game at San Antonio.