MIAMI — The Miami Heat is a new team in the absence of LeBron James but the organization will continue to strive for the best, according to head coach Erik Spoelstra. However one constant remains, Dwyane Wade returns for his 13th consecutive year with the Heat as an unremitting leader for the team which both Spoelstra and players admit must regroup and reinvent themselves. “I’ve always been a leader in this organization and with this team,” Wade said. “That doesn’t change no matter who comes in or (who) doesn’t.” The Heat kicks off its 2015 season Wednesday, Oct. 29 when it hosts the Washington Wizards at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
This will be the first time in four years without powerhouse forward LeBron James, who returned to his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers. The previous seasons with James included two NBA championships (2012 and 2013), and four consecutive Eastern Conference championships (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). Miami was widely thought of as the “team to beat,” but head coach Erik Spoelstra said at the Heat’s media day last month at the AmericanAirlines Arena that being perceived as an “elite” team is not the goal, however being competitive is.
“We have a ‘Heat’ standard, and that’s to compete for an NBA title every year,” he said. “This is a new team. Each year competition forces you to have to reinvent and change. So we all need to get better and we’re all definitely on board with that.”
Building a competitive team may mean that some players may have to fight for their positions, Spoelstra said. “We want to start the process of building a very competitive team,” he said. “It’s a different group. I’m telling everyone right from the ‘get-go’ (spots) are open for competition. Right now it’s an open canvas. We have to build and start working on the habits that are so important for us.”
And now that the “Big Three,” James, Wade and Chris Bosh, have been dismantled, higher expectations have been placed on Wade and Bosh. “I don’t want (Chris Bosh) to put too much on himself. All he has to do is go out and play basketball the way he knows how,” Wade said. “He’s a very talented guy. One of the most talented guys in the (forward/center) position in this game.”
The team will be focused on winning games this season not replacing James, Wade said. “We can’t replace LeBron. We’re a different team,” he said. “Everyone’s opportunities will be different. Everyone’s responsibilities will be different.”
Wade said the players, coaches and front office have all had time to get used to the idea of moving forward without James. Veterans Ray Allen and Shane Battier (retired) are also no longer with the Heat but Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are all returning.
Wade said that he is not sure how his role on the team will change this year in James’ absence but he will do whatever needs to be done for the team to be successful. “Obviously I will have the ball in my hands a little but more this year,” he said. “I’ve always been a play maker for this team. I will continue to be that. I’ve always been somebody who scored the ball at a high rate. I’ll do everything else I need to do for my team when needed.”
Rookie Andre Dawkins said that he expects to learn a good deal from Wade this year. “The greatness he’s displayed in his career so far, and he’s still got a lot left in the tank,” Dawkins said. “The best part of his game might be his mentality. (Wade) is a fierce competitor. He doesn’t want to lose and you couple that with his basketball ability and you’ve got a really great player.”
Nobody knows the future of this new team or how good they can be but building good habits will be key, Spoelstra said. “We will work to try to improve in specific areas and hopefully every single month we’ll get better.”