No Stopping Him
Second leg of a back-to-back. Final stop in a six-game West Coast trip. None of that could slow down LeBron James. Windhorst: Dime »
MIAMI-- For the past four seasons, so much was consistent about the Miami Heat.
Four seasons of championship expectations. Four seasons of coach Erik Spoelstra’s catch phrases repeated time and again. Four seasons of questioning Chris Bosh's role. Nearly four seasons of Dwyane Wade's health being examined. Four seasons of being everyone's favorite enemy. And, most notably, four seasons of LeBron James in his absolute prime.
So much of that changed between July 11, when James announced he was signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Friday, when the retooled Heat held media day on the eve of their first practice.
The expectations have fallen from championship or bust to essentially being projected as just another playoff team. Bosh has suddenly gone from an All-Star-caliber role player to quite possibly the top option in a revamped Heat offense.
Wade's health concerns are still there, as evidenced by the first question to him being, "How’s your knee?" But no longer is he viewed as a fragile piece of crystal that must be kept in prime condition until the postseason. Wade has returned to being an absolutely vital piece, one that won't be afforded nearly as many days off, if he can avoid it.
That much change could be jarring, especially for a core group of players and a franchise that have become quite used to winning at the highest level.
But Wade said the past 2½ months have been plenty of time to adjust to the idea of, once again, playing without James.
"I think everyone in the organization had enough time to get used to the idea that it's going to be a different team," Wade said. "We can't replace LeBron. We're a different team. Everyone's opportunities will be different. Everyone's responsibilities will be different."
The only problem for Wade is, he's not sure exactly how his responsibilities will change.
Other than the uncertainty of his troublesome knees, Wade also faces the question of just how close he can get to his form of four or five seasons ago.
Without knowing that, he can't honestly answer how his role will change this season.
"I'm not sure," Wade said. "Obviously, I'll have the ball in my hands a little bit more. I've always been a playmaker for this team, and I'll continue to be that. I've always been somebody who scored the ball at a high rate, and I will always try to do that.
"I'm not coming in thinking I have to do anything that LeBron did, or that I have to do anything that I did before the Big Three. I'm coming in with a new mind, with a new thought of, 'What’s going to be my role on this team?'"
Among Wade's offseason highlights was, of course, marrying Gabrielle Union, and among the lowlights was a 30-day paleo diet stint that left him moody but also noticeably leaner.
"It was bad," Wade said of the mood swings. "I had to tell my wife, 'Excuse me if I'm not the guy that you're used to.'
"There were some days where I just couldn't take it, but I stuck with it for 30 days, and from there it just becomes part of your lifestyle."
Wade wouldn't divulge his current weight, but he did indicate it was somewhere between 212, his weight as a rookie, and 225, his playing weight last season.
"My goal this year is to be available as much as possible," he said.
The other remaining member of the former Big Three has more detailed goals.
Bosh never expected to return to a primary scoring role. He assumed that James would stay in Miami for the long haul, leaving Bosh as an outside-shooting big who watched James and Wade dominate the post.
Now, armed with a healthy, new $118 million contract, Bosh is downright giddy about the opportunity to show off a refined, well-rounded game that will allow the Heat to remain among the best teams in the league.
"I've had to play a role the past four years, but moving forward, I can show the city and the organization what value I can bring, how much I can turn up the intensity, how much I can put more weight on my shoulders and really hold that load and bring more wins to Miami," Bosh said.
One aspect of the Heat that won't necessarily change is the players' feelings about James.
While you could easily find reasons for Wade, Bosh and a handful of others in the Heat organization to have animosity toward James because he left everyone in the dark while making his free-agent decision -- or simply for leaving a team that could've maintained a long, championship-level run -- no one displayed even the slightest bit of bitterness.
Spoelstra said it took him and the front-office staff about 10 minutes to shift moods from disappointed to invigorated.
Udonis Haslem said he was plenty satisfied with two titles in four seasons during James' time in Miami.
Even Danny Granger, who briefly reopened his free agency after hearing of James' return to Cleveland, said he decided Miami was still the best fit for him, even without the four-time MVP.
Among players, Wade probably has the most reason to be upset with James, given that the timing of it all cost Wade millions, and he was considered James' best friend on the team.
Wade said he understands there are reasons for him to be angry if he chose to be. He simply chooses not to.
"I don't want to focus on none of that," he said. "I want to focus on moving on. That’s my friend, at the end of the day. The rest of it, I'm just focused on moving on and doing what I can. I can't focus on disliking somebody and all that. That's putting too much energy on the wrong thing."
Besides, given how much the Heat have to adjust now that James is gone, there's probably not enough time to even hold a grudge.
"I was disappointed," Bosh said. "There was a letdown initially for not being able to keep that going, but you have to get over it. You can't stay in the past.
"It's a huge opportunity, not only for this team, but for every individual that's here."