Color analyst Tony Fiorentino talks the latest Heat news
Tony Fiorentino is no stranger to the Miami Heat. He has been involved with the team as an assistant coach, scouting coordinator or broadcaster since the franchise’s inception in 1988.
Fiorentino is currently in his 11th season as a regular member of the Heat’s Sun Sports broadcast team. He and play-by-play man Eric Reid form the only NBA broadcasting team that has been employed by their franchise since its start.
FOX Sports Florida’s Charlie McCarthy recently spoke with The Coach, whom you can follow on Twitter (@TonyHEATWC3x).
FOX Sports Florida: Tony, what have we learned about the Heat so far this season?
TONY FIORENTINO: We knew a lot about them the past two years, especially winning the back-to-back world championships. And you just know as an organization they’re going to do everything the right way. Their overall long-range goal obviously is to win another championship, so that goes into all the planning. When guys get nicked up and guys get injuries, no one is ever rushed back. No one is ever put in a position where they can be hurt by being in the game when you need more time to rehab.
The long-range goal is to be a healthy, thriving team in April when the playoffs begin. That’s what they’ve done in the past two years. A good example is Michael Beasley with the sore hamstring. They’re going to be cautious with it. They’re going to make sure he’s 100 percent. I think when you look at a guy like Greg Oden — I read where his agent said the reason Oden came to the Heat was because he knew they were going to take their time and rehab him and not rush him back to win games.
Coach Erik Spoelstra has a lot of great qualities, and one of them is knowing when to bring a guy back or when to change things and when to keep them the same. The Heat have a good reputation around the league of being people who don’t do that sort of thing. You have to feel that the Heat, with all their experience the past two years, are on the right track.
FSFla: Is resting players, such as Dwyane Wade and his knees, more important than securing home-court advantage in the playoffs?
TF: There’s no greater example of it than two years ago when the Heat had to play without Chris Bosh (abdominal strain) through the Eastern Conference playoffs until they got to Boston and Game 5 of the conference finals. He also played in Games 6 and 7, and then played Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals. Oklahoma City had one more win than the Heat did that season, so they had the home-court advantage. But remember, the Heat had guys who were nicked up and didn’t want them to get worse toward the tail end of that season, so rather than try to secure a better record than someone they might be playing in the NBA Finals, they’d rather be healthy.
They have a lot of confidence they can win on the road. One of the things we keep bringing up in the broadcasts is the Heat had the best road record in the NBA last year at 29-12. So, this team is constructed brilliantly by Pat Riley and coached so well by the coaching staff that they’re in it for the long haul. They’re in with the depth — each year Coach (Pat) Riley has added something to the depth. There was Shane Battier and Norris Cole added after the Heat lost to Dallas in 2011; Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and then Birdman (Chris Andersen) last season; and Michael Beasley, Greg Oden and Roger Mason Jr. before this season. The Heat would like to have the overall record, but the main thing is to be healthy.
FSFla: Lebron James says he wants to get better. Is that possible?
TF: He already was the best player in the world when he came here, but I think his growth has been defensively, where I think he’s a better defensive player than he was when he came. I think it also has been in maturity through the coaching of Erik Spoelstra and the staff. He was always a very smart player, but he’s even taking that to the enth degree. I’ve seen him grow mentally. He’s seeing more plays develop before they develop. He’s more of a leader now — when he first got here he was trying to fit in. Everything came to a head in the Dallas series when we lost in the 2011 NBA Finals. LeBron got retrospective and he realized that it’s not going to happen again where he’s passive in a playoff series.
FSFla: Compare Michael Beasley now to his first stint with the Heat.
TF: He was a young player out of Kansas State when he was drafted by the Heat, the second player behind Derrick Rose in 2008. He was brought into a different situation at that time. Coach Spoelstra was a first-time head coach. For two years they were gearing up to be in position in 2010 to be able to go after free agents. So the situation was different. They were trying to win games with guys in the last year of their contracts and a young guy like Beasley — a situation a lot different than it is now. So he had baptism by fire. He had to grow up quickly, and he wasn’t the most mature kid out of college — he would be the first guy to admit that.
When he left, he played for two different teams (Minnesota, Phoenix) and came back to Miami more mature. He’s now five years a veteran. He’s coming back to a team that drafted him and treated him in a first-class way and he left on a good note. Besides that, you have a lot of alpha males in that locker room. He needed guys around him who were strong-willed, alpha-type people — like LeBron and Wade and Bosh and Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen. They’re all great first-class citizens who carry themselves well. Just by example, he has to try and fit in. Beasley doesn’t have a guaranteed contract, so he’s got to make his way, nothing is given to him.
And he knew this team had won two championships without him. We were getting very good reports from the coaches about how hard he was working in practice, and they did see a difference in him in his approach to practice. He was much more mature, much more focused and he understood a little more what they were trying to do defensively. Little by little, more and more, he gained the coaches’ trust. It was another great idea by Pat Riley to bring Beasley in here on a non-guaranteed contract — you have nothing to lose.
FSFla: The Heat are on a four-game, eight-day West Coast trip. What can that do for a team?
TF: They came off a five-game homestead, and guys don’t like to be away from their families for Christmas. And quite honestly, back-to-back NBA champions deserve to be home for Christmas, I’m not sure why the NBA did what they did — but given the situation, you accept it. You’re going to be on the road for a while and guys like to be together. They bond together, especially this team.
You don’t want to be cliche-ish, but this is a very close-knit team. They’re a team that can have fun off the court, like last year in Toronto when we went to the sports bar to watch the Super Bowl. And it shows you the respect the Heat have for their players. Under normal circumstances, you would never do that. We had a game the next night. But the Heat won the game.