Barry Jackson

Erik Spoelstra dishes on Heat issues: ‘It feels like a new team. Big expectations.’

Highlights from Erik Spoelstra’s Miami Heat media day press briefing on Monday:

▪ Overall thoughts: “It feels like a new team. We have had plenty of time to recalibrate. It’s been 172 days [this offseason]. That’s probably 70 some days too many for this organization for the offseason. It feels like a figurative turning of the page. We will keep dragging.... to get back to where we want to be as an organization.

“We feel very optimistic this team can get us going in the right direction. We’re all excited about it. Big expectations. You focus on the possibilities, that’s where anyone gets excited about this team. It’s a group of men we think can bring something special out of each other. I see opportunity.”

He said he “unequivocally” believes this team can be contender in the East. “We have a lot to prove, a lot of work to do.”

▪ The defense-first style won’t change. “Preseason will be to evaluate and find out what works the best. The playing style will be similar to how we’ve played in the past. The commitment to defense, those things we expect out of this team. This is about winning and how can you help contribute to winning. We have to keep an eye on the big picture, what helps us win.”

▪ On the recruitment of Jimmy Butler: “We were all in the room together. I was able to spend some time with him in that initial meeting. I’m sure he had talked to Dwyane [Wade] about us, and I had talked to Dwyane about him. This is the kind of alignment both sides are looking for.

“Jimmy and I have spent a good deal of time, dinners and talking on the phone. The relationship between the highest paid player and the head coach is the most important one in this building. He’s top 15 in this planet, has proven himself to be one of the elite two-way players in this league.”

▪ Will Butler be the leader? “He better. It’s not just about the paycheck. Leadership is expected at all levels. He’s a big voice in that. So much is about the right fit, where you share the same kind of values and same standards in how you approach the game, and that’s what we felt about Jimmy. We feel like we speak the same language.”

▪ Spoelstra wants to see Butler “inspire” players to get to another level:

“He’s one of the underrated playmakers in this league. [His nickname] Jimmy Buckets sells him short. He’s not just a bucket maker. You saw in the playoffs last year he’ll make whatever play is necessary.”

▪ Butler told Spoelstra over dinner that they hated the Heat when he played on other teams. “The thing you underestimated about us is we hated you too,” Spoelstra told him.

Spoelstra said he doesn’t care if the Heat is hated per se, but “when you play a certain kind of basketball that’s competitive, that’s the point. You don’t want to be the team everyone wants to play because it’s going to be easy.”

▪ On Justise Winslow’s role: “He will have a big role on what we’re doing going forward. You saw that when he was healthy and the best version of himself, he has the ability to put his fingerprints on winning. It’s with his voice, his leadership, his command of the game on both sides.

“He truly has to be the best two-way basketball player. I don’t want us to take a step back in terms of vernacular. Positionless basketball, this is the league so catch up. Will the ball be in his hands? Yes. But you better believe Goran Dragic will have a big impact on the ball. That’s what he does best, and that’s where he’s been an All-Star.”

▪ Though Kelly Olynyk won’t be ready for the start of camp because of his Team Canada knee injury, he will be ready at some point in preseason, and Spoelstra seems to want to continue on with the Bam Adebayo/Olynyk power rotation combo that played very together last season.

“I love what Kelly and Bam did last year. Kelly will be ready at some point in preseason to starting getting after it. They have a nice connection. It’s something sometimes you don’t expect or anticipate. They created that on their own, their ability to play off each other. Their strengths bring out the strengths of the other guy. Their weaknesses mask the weaknesses of the other. It’s a very good tandem.”

▪ On Adebayo: “Bam is going to have a big role in what we’re trying to do. He was one of the more impactful centers in terms of winning in the league. That’s the only thing that matters to me. He has really worked behind the scenes because he has a ferocious work ethic.

“He’s the next line of Heat culture leaders. The team has changed. We don’t have a lot of guys with a long tenure. He embodies a lot of the qualities we want all our players to have. He will do a great job with his work ethic of holding other people accountable. He’s not afraid to step up and use his voice more. He has earned that.”

▪ On Dion Waiters: “I haven’t forgotten who Dion Waiters can be when he’s in world class shape. That’s the expectation, world class conditioning and shape and he’s put a lot into that this summer. His ability to break defenses down and get into the paint is what a lot of teams in this league are looking for.”

▪ On his contract extension: “Years ago, I could just fly under the radar and the news was not reported. I feel more comfortable with that. I take this responsibility very seriously. It’s one of the most respected organizations in all of sports and they [Micky Arison and Pat Riley] started that.

“I feel humbled from the top they feel confident in not just myself - but the entire… staff - that we are given the responsibility again to move this organization forward to where we want it to be. I’m honored about it and can’t wait to get to work with this team.”

▪ On James Johnson: “He’s been very serious about his work this summer. You can see it in our conditioning day. He did a great job with that. He’s a unique two-way player in his ability to guard one through five when he’s healthy and facilitate and make other players better from a hybrid frontcourt position is unique. He’s coming in healthy.”

▪ On Tyler Herro: “He has a lot of Miami Heat qualities we respected and liked. I see a hard working young man. He’s going to have to earn it, as he should. His work ethic is not a rumor. It’s real.”

▪ On Meyers Leonard: “I love the fact a lot of guys coming in here have legendary work ethics. I love Meyers’ journey. I would love to see young players have a similar journey. Came in at 19 [to Portland] and there’s been a major transformation.... During the course of those seven years, he has developed into a great leader, great teammate.”

▪ Spoelstra believes Kendrick Nunn could join the “long lineage” of Heat undrafted success stories.

“He’s a talent. There’s not a lot of Chicago players that have come through here that I didn’t like. A lot are some of my favorites [like Wade]. I like these Chicago kids.”

▪ On Udonis Haslem: “The last two or three years, I asked him how much do I need to recruit you. UD is not someone who can do something halfway. When he commits to this, it’s to be a player. That’s his greatest impact. Where he feels this sense of purpose is we are turning this page to a new generation of Heat players, and he feels just as responsible for that.”

▪ On Derrick Jones Jr.: “He put in a great deal of time this summer. He logged the most workouts in our facility in the offseason. You will see a stronger, more efficient capable athlete in terms of keeping himself available and reliable to the team. He earned his minutes last year of being that spark of energy and providing something our team needed.

“He made us at one point where we had to play him. But he wasn’t someone who you saw we put him in ink. That’s the next challenge for Derrick Jones, to make sure we have him in ink as someone available and reliable.”

▪ Spoelstra texted Wade a picture of the team’s conditioning day drills the other day.

“I said “You miss this?”

Wade’s response? “Hell no.”

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