A Heat six-pack on a Thursday:
▪ If Alonzo Mourning was the original poster child for Heat culture, Jimmy Butler might become the next decade’s symbol of everything the organization stands for from a work ethic, defensive doggedness and intensity standpoint.
So it’s no surprise that the two have taken the time to cultivate a relationship.
“I talk to Zo every single day,” Butler told me last week. “He’s helping me tremendously. I wish I could bug D-Wade every single day but he just happened to retire. I give him that life.
“But Zo is helping me be a leader, constantly reminding me of how I can lead in numerous ways, whether it’s talking with this guy or how this guy can handle stuff or what I’m supposed to be doing on the floor. Obviously, he’s done it all before. He’s been a huge help to me. I’ll talk to him later today. Guarantee I’ll talk to him tomorrow and every day after that.”
▪ Playing off the bench in both preseason games, guard Dion Waiters completed a back-to-back set to open the preseason with no pain in his surgically repaired left ankle.
That’s a step in the right direction for the 27-year-old.
“It felt good without pain,” Waiters said to reporters after finishing Wednesday’s preseason win at Charlotte with 19 points and four assists, all in 16 first-half minutes. “It definitely feels good… being able to play a back-to-back and not be sore.”
Waiters has made clear he would like to be a starter, but coach Erik Spoelstra has been non-committal about that.
“We’ll see. I’m still open to anything,” Spoelstra said after Wednesday’s game. “That kind of scoring punch lends itself really to either lineup.”
Waiters never reached optimal shape last season after returning from January 2018 surgery on his ankle, but he dedicated this offseason to reshaping his body. He dropped 15 pounds this past summer, and is hoping to shed even more weight during the season.
Spoelstra said Waiters is still working to get “in Miami Heat shape. He’s getting there, getting his legs under him, and can give us that kind of boost when his body is feeling right.”
Waiters said after the game: “I know I got a ways to go. As long as I continue to stay on top of my stuff and make sure I’m doing all the right things, it can only can help me. I know what’s best for me; coach does, too. It shows. I just got to keep trusting it and stick with what I’ve been doing.”
▪ Butler told me that Dwyane Wade was the only Heat player (or former player) with whom he consulted in the months before deciding to sign with the Heat.
But he said playing for the Heat “comes up all the time, if I’m talking to LeBron [James] or [Chris] Bosh. There are so many people I know who have played for the organization who have nothing but great things to say about it. The list goes down the line. You have so many good people here. They do stuff the right way here. They’ve lived up to everything they told me thus far. I try my best to live up to what I told them as well.”
▪ Heat president Pat Riley, making a comment about how “very, very unselfish” Butler is as a player, said “he shared a story with me about one of the scrimmages that these guys have been going through. So the first scrimmage that he was in with one of our players, they lost.
“So that means you got to sit and he was not happy with sitting. But he said the first scrimmage, he never took a shot. He just kept passing the ball to everybody. Then one of the other guys on the team that was playing with him, he said: ‘Well, if we’re going to win, you got to score.’ So they know why he’s here.”
▪ A couple of other takeaways from the first two preseason games, beyond the bunch of things detailed here in my piece after Wednesday’s Charlotte game:
The Heat continues to play well with Derrick Jones Jr. on the floor. Miami has outscored teams by 45 points in the 49 minutes he’s played in preseason... Everyone knows Bam Adebayo defends wing players as well as most any NBA big man. But his defense in the paint has been strong, too; he has four blocks in two preseason games after blocking 65 shots in 82 games last season.... Chris Silva is reminding some internally of a young Udonis Haslem.
▪ Riley summed up Heat culture this way, and even though it’s long, it’s the best assessment we’ve ever heard:
“I don’t know it’s like with the 29 other teams. I don’t hear. I don’t care what it’s like. I hear stories. The three things that I don’t like inside the culture is complaining, gossiping and not working hard. I can’t stand that. Players start to complain, they start to gossip, become cynical about things, it’s too hard, it’s too this or whatever, I have a hard time with that when you’re a professional basketball player and you’re making a good living. I think when we got here 25 years ago, Micky Arison and I sat down and talked long about what he wanted. He felt that maybe I could start that process of developing a culture which there would be shared visions and shared ideas with players.
“I think the best person, the first people that got here, was Zo. Zo got here, give him a basketball and a dumbbell and put him in the weight and that was it. It was all about work. It was all about effort. It was easier to coach those guys in the 90s than it is today. There’s not a lot of players that have that kind of attitude. They’re looking for a different way out.
“But there are players who have been places and have heard about this place and say, `I want to be there.’ It’s not draconian. It’s medieval. It’s a place where we expect professional basketball players become world-class athletes, the best player you can be, the version you can be. We’ll help you do that and to become nutritionally involved so you can get in shape. If you want that and to work for a great owner and to be in a great city where we care about winning.
“I’ll say this because we’re not trying to kiss anybody’s butt here that we have a fair and balanced media. We do compared to other places. This is a destination point and the culture that we have created, I’m proud of. It’s a culture that’s been created with continuity. You see the same faces every day. We get bored. We’re all so competitive. I think players like to be around something with stability. I think players like coming here. I think Jimmy was hungry for this kind of place and I hope he likes it but it’s going to be hard.”