PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — There’s not a lot of mystery about what the Miami Heat rotation will look like this season.
Such is life when basically an entire team from one season stays together, particularly when that team was good enough to win its second straight NBA championship.
Those in this Heat training camp combined to play 95 percent of the minutes Miami logged last season, did 96 percent of the scoring, grabbed 94 percent of the rebounds, made 95 percent of the starts and posted 99 percent of the blocked shots. And those numbers — along with, well, common sense — clearly suggest that it might be a daunting task for someone new to crack an already-established championship rotation.
“Obviously, our team has to evolve,” Heat forward and reigning NBA MVP LeBron James said after practice Wednesday, the midway point of Miami’s camp. “We can’t be the same team we were last year. I don’t think that’s good enough to win a championship. … The sets and the way we defend will be the same, but there will be tweaks along the season that we feel like can help us more.”
The Heat won 66 games last season, put together a 27-game winning streak and bring back every rotation player except Mike Miller, who was set free under the amnesty provision in a move that will save Miami roughly $40 million in salary-cap space and luxury-tax payments over the next two years.
That doesn’t mean those who are back should necessarily feel resigned to the same role, though.
“I don’t want them to feel that way,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We constantly talk about being better, within the confines of our team, whatever makes sense for us to try to get to another level. Our players have embraced that and it keeps a constant newness.”
It’s not exactly guesswork to say that James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers are all etched into the starting lineup. Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Norris Cole almost certainly will have rotation spots and one of them, probably either Battier or Haslem, will be starting. Barring some sort of personnel move, James Jones, Joel Anthony, Rashard Lewis and Greg Oden will have places on the roster as well.
That’s 13 players. The Heat can only carry 15, and aren’t obligated to keep that many. So in essence, there’s seven other guys in camp fighting for no more than two spots on the roster, which would then give them the chance to fight again for time in the rotation.
“Everybody is always competing for something,” said veteran guard Roger Mason Jr., one of those guys in camp trying to win a spot with the Heat. “Competition is part of being a professional. So I embrace that. I enjoy the challenge. I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t expect to have a good situation.”
Mason is betting on himself in this camp, literally.
He turned down guaranteed contract offers from Chicago and Oklahoma City to take a non-guaranteed deal — a gamble — to sign with Miami, a team that wanted him five years ago. Mason is a part-time South Florida resident and, with no idea that this camp deal was going to happen, found himself watching and scouting the Heat from the stands during last season’s playoff run.
“My agent didn’t think it was appropriate for me to take a non-guaranteed one-year contract,” Mason said. “But all these guys have sacrificed. I guess I fit in with that reality.”
Mason figures to have a big chance of sticking around, particularly since he would fill some of the void left by Miller and already has good relationships with many Heat players. Jarvis Varnado was on the Heat roster last year and certainly wouldn’t surprise anyone by being back this time, and Michael Beasley is getting a chance to resurrect his career in Miami, the place it started five years ago.
It all means someone like Eric Griffin knows there’s a serious logjam in front of him if he’s going to be in uniform with Miami on opening night.
The Heat like Griffin, a guard from Campbell who’s probably best known for the YouTube-sensation-level dunk he had against North Carolina A&T in 2011. And Griffin knows about doing things the hard way — he got cut multiple times from teams in middle school and high school, before finally coming into his own as a senior.
“They already know what I can do,” Griffin said. “It’s on me to just show them why I belong here.”