NBA PM: Miami Moves on Without LeBron James

The post-LeBron James era has begun in Miami, but the HEAT are confident they can remain contenders.

Alex Kennedy profile picture
Updated 1 year ago on

8 min read

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Miami HEAT Move on Without LeBron James

Even after playing in four straight NBA Finals and having a target on their back in every season since 2010, the Miami HEAT enter the 2014-15 season as underdogs. That’s what happens when the best player in the world, LeBron James, leaves a team as a free agent.

However, even without James, Miami is still very talented and determined to prove that they still have what it takes to contend in the Eastern Conference.

Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Andersen, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem were re-signed over the summer, and new players such as Luol Deng, Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts and Shabazz Napier were added to the roster. Head coach Erik Spoelstra and his staff are back as well.

“We’ve got more of a chip on our shoulder,” Haslem said. “We’ve got more of a chip on our shoulder than any team in the league, I’ll tell you that. … We’ve got a lot of guys here who’ve been doubted.”

One thing that has been clear throughout the first few days of training camp is that Spoelstra doesn’t want to hear about his previous teams. He has shot down questions from reporters who want to compare this year’s squad to last year’s, and at one point even interrupted, “Who cares about last year? This is about this team.”

“The HEAT culture, the HEAT code, that’ll remain the same; our standards and expectations and what our culture is all about, that remains the same,” Spoelstra said. “That’s one thing that you can count on in a league where there’s constant change. … We like tough-minded players, tough-physical players. We felt we had it before and we feel the type of guys we were able to bring in this summer fit our DNA. It’s not a coincidence.”

This season, the HEAT are hoping to return to the identity that made them so successful during their championship runs. Spoelstra and his players admit that they got away from the tough, defensive-oriented approach that worked so well for them in the past. After finishing in the top five in points allowed per 100 possessions during the 2010-11 season and 2011-12 season, Miami dropped down to 11th in the league last year.

Now, they’re trying to become an elite defensive unit again. The first day of training camp was spent entirely on defense, and Spoelstra said that will be the focus the majority of time throughout camp because he’s trying to stress the defense-first mentality.

“I don’t think we’re as talented as years past, so we’re going to have to make up for it in toughness,” Bosh said. “Those are the areas that we really have to excel – defense and rebounding. We’re starting to bring that back, focusing on that. Not to say that we weren’t before, but we just had a lot of slippage before. We’re really trying to get back to that, and I think that’s really going to bring us over the top. If we want to be an elite team, defense, rebounding and toughness is really something that we’re going to have to do every night. … We’re doing defensive drills all the time, like we did before; before we got caught up in the offensive numbers. We had a lot of offensive firepower, sharing the ball and getting used to all of the talent on the floor offensively. But now, we’ve gotten back to how we were defensively in the first and second year, doing more defensive drills than offensive drills. Of course, we still want to score a lot of points and play fast, but we want to play off of misses.”

“Defense wins championships,” Napier said. “When they won championships here, I believe they were top five in defense. That’s where we want to be at. You have to be a good defensive team because, offensively, you’re going to get your points… It’s about how can you stop other people from getting their points.”

“I think mentally, we have the right approach,” Haslem said. “We’re going to be physical, we’re going to defend and we’re going to work our butts off. The basketball stuff will come, with time together on the floor, practice and time together off the floor building that symbiotic relationship. Those things will come, but mentally we’re approaching everything the right way.”

Miami’s biggest move the summer was replacing James with Deng, a fellow former All-Star who has been a part of some very talented teams. The HEAT believe that Deng will help them on both ends of the floor and perfectly fit in with their organization.

“I want to bring a lot of energy and just play hard,” Deng said. “That’s the team’s makeup. We’ve got guys who play really hard and that really fits my character, coming in and playing both ends of the floor. My main thing is always playing as hard as I can and the rest will take care of itself.”

“Lu brings so many of the things that we like in this organization, which is why we thought he’d be such a great fit and why we recruited him so hard,” Spoelstra said. “[We like] his defensive mentality, his toughness, his resolve, his ability to make multiple efforts defensively, his ability to guard multiple positions and, offensively, we feel like he’s a very underrated player. We like the things he brings to the table on that side of the floor. He’s really active without the ball, we think he’s an underrated shooter and he does a lot of intangible things on that end of the floor that we like.”

“He’s a great two-way player and he brings stability to this team,” Wade said of Deng. “Defensively, he shows you don’t have to be the quickest guy or the most athletic guy [to defend well]. He’s come from a great system in Chicago, especially with Thibs the last few years, so he’s a great system defender. He’s a real big guy – I don’t think people understand how big he really is. On offense, he’s stable, he can hit the outside shot and he does a great job of cutting behind the defense.”

“He’s an all-around player and he’s going to do everything,” Danny Granger said of Deng. “He’s going to play defense. He’s going to rebound. He’s going to score. He does all the dirty work. He’s one of the best small forwards in this league.”

The HEAT won’t be under the microscope quite like they were in recent years, but it’ll be interesting to see how different this team will be without James making his presence felt on both ends of the floor. This is a veteran group that’s determined to prove their doubters wrong and remain a contender.

Pelicans Sign D.J. Stephens

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has signed D.J. Stephens to their training camp roster. Per team policy, terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Stephens, 6’5 and 188 pounds, began his professional career with Ilysiakos B.C. of Greece where he averaged 10.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. After appearing in 12 games, Stephens returned to the United States, signing a 10-day contract with the Milwaukee Bucks on March 26, appearing in three games and averaging 2.3 points and 1.7 rebounds. Stephens concluded the 2013-14 season in Turkey, appearing in seven games for Anadolu Efes, where the Texas native averaged 5.0 points and 2.4 rebounds.

Undrafted in 2013 out of the University of Memphis, Stephens ended his Tigers career earning All-Conference USA Third Team, Conference USA All-Defensive Team and Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors his senior season.

New Orleans’ training camp roster now stands at 19 players.

Cavaliers Sign Stephen Holt

The Cleveland Cavaliers have signed guard Stephen Holt, Cavaliers general manager David Griffin announced today from Cleveland Clinic Courts. Per league policy, terms of the contract were not released.

Holt, a 6’4 guard, played four seasons at Saint Mary’s and averaged 10.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 31.2 minutes over 127 games (95 starts). The Portland, Oregon native fell just one steal shy of the school record for a career with 173 to finish second, while also ranking fourth in made free throws (401), tied for fifth in games played (127), tenth in free throw percentage (.808), tenth in assists (305) and tenth in scoring (1,370 points). As a senior in 2013-14, he started all 34 games and was a first team all-WCC selection after averaging 15.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists in 37.5 minutes per game.

Holt went undrafted in this year’s NBA Draft and joined the Atlanta Hawks summer league team in Las Vegas where he averaged 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.2 steals in 23.8 minutes over five games (three starts). He also shot .455 (8-19) from the three-point line with the Hawks.

The Cavs training camp roster now stands at 18.

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Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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