It’s all so different now for the Miami Heat. A franchise that won three NBA championships with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the last decade is now starting over in many respects.
James is gone and a champion again in Cleveland. Wade now plays for Chicago. Bosh and the Heat are estranged, with no hope of reconciling.
So from the outside, it would seem like a daunting challenge awaits Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Not so, according to Spoelstra’s boss.
“This is not his greatest challenge,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “This is far and away from his greatest challenge. His greatest challenge was four years of the Big Three. … This is a challenge for him, but it’s one that I know he’s excited about. He can go to the drawing board, start moving pieces around, cultivate his own philosophy with this team.”
Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson are the young core now for Miami, with Goran Dragic running the offense and veterans like Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington and Derrick Williams brought in to help complete a very-new-looking Heat roster. A team that’s barely two years removed from the NBA Finals and was a win away from the league’s final four last season is entering this season with far more questions than answers.
“It’s what you sign up for in this business,” Spoelstra said. “Competition is still everything. And this will be great competition.”
Riley said he’s energized by this new chapter, albeit one that the Heat weren’t exactly clamoring to see arrive. He revealed last month that he’s entertained thoughts of stepping down in the last couple years, though is now committing himself to another rebuilding that he believes can soon be classified as a reloading.
“We want to win and we don’t know what we really have,” Riley said. “But we love Hassan. We love Josh and Justise and Tyler and a lot of the other young players that we have. It’s a wait-and-let’s-see what happens, and then we’ll go from there.”
Here’s some of what to know going into the Heat season:
SPO MILESTONE: Miami’s first victory this season will be the 400th for coach Erik Spoelstra. San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich is the NBA’s only other coach to reach 400 wins with his current club. Only six coaches with more than eight years of experience — Phil Jackson, Billy Cunningham, Popovich, K.C. Jones, Red Auerbach and Heat President Pat Riley — have a better winning percentage than Spoelstra, who turns 46 on Nov. 1.
AFTER WADE: This was Miami’s starting five the last time it played a game without Dwyane Wade on the roster: Anthony Carter and Rasual Butler at guard, Caron Butler and Malik Allen at forward and Brian Grant at center. Wade’s mark on the Heat record books is going to last a very long time — he leads the franchise in games played, games started, points, assists and steals, plus is second in blocks and fourth in rebounds.
WHITESIDE’S OFFENSE: Much gets made about Hassan Whiteside’s defensive presence, and rightly so considering he led the NBA in blocks per game last season by a wide margin. But Whiteside also has shooting numbers better than any starter in Heat history, albeit still with a relatively small sample size. Whiteside shot 63 percent from 2-point range two seasons ago, 61 percent last year. Next on that list: LeBron James, 60 percent in 2012-13.
RUNNING DRAGON: When the Heat started playing at a much faster pace following the All-Star break last season, point guard Goran Dragic’s numbers soared. Dragic before the break last year — 12.2 points, 5.3 assists. Dragic after the break — 17.3 points, 6.7 assists, and that was basically in the same amount of minutes.
MINNESOTA TO MIAMI: Something about the way the Minnesota Timberwolves draft seems to eventually appeal to Miami. The Wolves drafted Mario Chalmers on draft night in 2008, in what became a deal that sent the two-time champion point guard to the Heat. And this Heat team features three newcomers who were all first-round Minnesota draftees — Wayne Ellington (No. 28, 2009), Luke Babbitt (No. 16, 2010) and Derrick Williams (No. 2, 2011).