With 11 players returning from a team that finished last season on a 30-11 run, one might imagine Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has a pretty good grasp of what he wants to do with rotations, minutes and starting jobs.
But the truth is it’s a bit more complicated than just plugging guys back into the same spots.
“A lot more than you’d even imagine,” Spoelstra answered Tuesday when asked if rotation spots really remained undecided.
We know this: With a healthy Justise Winslow back from season-ending shoulder surgery and Josh Richardson freshly signed to a four-year, $42 million contract extension, Spoelstra has an interesting dilemma at small forward.
Does he keep gritty, defensive-minded second-year guard Rodney McGruder (6-5, 200) in the starting lineup to defend some of the best wing players in the league after he did a respectable job and started 65 games a year ago?
Does he go with Winslow, a 6-7, 225-pound Swiss-army knife who still needs to prove he can shoot consistenly, but has come into camp slimmer, more athletic and determined?
Or does Spoelstra turn to 6-6, 200-pound Richardson, who added 10 pounds of muscle to his wiry frame, defends and is the more proven shooter?
As Pat Riley noted last Friday in his preseason press conference: “This perimeter competition for minutes and for playing time and for a starting position is going to be one of the great things I’m going to be looking forward to in practice.”
Barring a surprising development at power forward, where James Johnson is expected to be the starter, small forward is the only starting job really up for grabs in camp. And as much love and familiarity and friendship there might be between the three guys in the running for that job, the competition has already proven to be fierce after two days of training camp at FAU.
“It’s not friendly at all,” Winslow said. “We’ve got guys diving on top of other guys, hard fouls, guys really getting after it.”
Richardson said he and Tyler Johnson got tangled up and were rolling around on the floor fighting for a loose ball Wednesday. They got up, “slapped fives” and moved on.
“Everybody kind of guards everybody on the perimeter, so it’s no like [I’m] matched up with [Winslow],” Richardson said. “You just kind of go out there, roll it out there and play.
“It’s tough. We’ve got a team full of guys that know how to be ultra competitive, but still try to help each other, still try have each other’s best interest in mind. It's very competitive, but we keep it the right way.”
McGruder, who had surgery for a deviated septum this summer, spent the entire offseason working to become a more consistent shooter, putting up hundreds of shots per day. He says he only took one day off to relax — his birthday.
McGruder shot 41.3 percent from the field and 33.2 percent from three-point range.
“I hope coach makes a great decision and whoever starts propels us to a great start,” McGruder said.
Said Winslow of McGruder: “He’s great. He pushes me. Rodney came in the most conditioned guy and I’m trying to catch him, I’m trying to chase him. That’s what it’s about. Each guy pushes me in some way. I just use that. I’m trying to get on that level of his conditioning. But he’s a great competitor. I know whenever he’s out there on the other team that I’m going to have to fight.”
Winslow, a career 40-percent shooter (25.8-percent from three), has dropped between 10-15 pounds since last season and changed his diet as well.
Winslow says being faster and lighter will help him get to the basket for high percentage shots. Defensively, he says he can still guard the power forward position. “Centers will test me,” he said Wednesday.
Ultimately, Winslow said, his goal this season is to be on the floor when it matters most. But starting is important to him, too.
“Usually Spo has those five guys that he thinks are playing the best and they’re in at the end of the game — that’s really the goal,” Winslow said.
“I want to start, but really being in the game at the end of games is where you want to be. But I definitely want to start. Starting is important to me. I’m going out here every day trying to bust my ass, playing team ball, but also being aggressive and trying to do my thing in the flow of the team.”