With their preseason training camp set to open on Tuesday in the Bahamas, the Miami Heat convened at the AmericanAirlines Arena for their annual Media Day. Heading into the fourth season of the Big Three era, the chance to become the fourth franchise in NBA history to win three straight championships was on everyone's mind.
"What we have is a tremendous opportunity and we have a very highly motivated group of guys in that locker room and they understand what we're playing for," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a day after signing a multiyear contract extension. "That excites me."
Dwyane Wade echoed the coach's sentiment. "I think we understand the team that we have and understand this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us," he said.
Miami is the odds-on favorite to win it all this season, and they return nearly the entire roster from last season's championship squad. Only Mike Miller (a salary casualty) and Juwan Howard (who retired to join the coaching staff) are gone, in their place are former first-overall draft pick Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, who returns to the Heat on a non-guaranteed tryout deal after three seasons in Minnesota and Phoenix.
Both Beasley and Oden spoke at length about the opportunity to jump start their careers with the defending champs.
"I have a lot to prove to myself," said Oden, who is coming off multiple knee surgeries and has not played an NBA game in over three years. "When I am able to go in that first game, even if I just play five minutes, just to be able to end the game and be healthy, that's going to be a big step for me. Success to me is walking on the court and walking off healthy."
Like Oden, Beasley is trying to resurrect his career after his reputation as an immature player derailed it. "I've learned to be a better person," he said. Beasley vowed to improve his effort, noting, "I come here knowing this team doesn't need me" to compete for a title.
But if there was one topic that got as much attention as quest for a three-peat, it was the contract status of reigning NBA MVP LeBron James. He, Wade, and Chris Bosh all have the option to opt out of their contracts two years early after this season. Heat fans might already be tired of the subject altogether, but it will get much more play as the season progresses.
Not that James is worried about becoming a distraction. "It'd be different if we had a young ballclub that pretty much didn't know how to handle the media and got suckered into questions," he said.
"We have a veteran ballclub that's heard everything, that's seen everything and it won't be a problem. Guys understand where I stand and that's all that matters."
According to Wade, the whole opt-out issue is a red herring. "I don't think anybody is looking to go elsewhere," he said. "We all know inside our locker room that LeBron's committed to this team."
James also spoke at length about his goals coming into the season. Having won two straight championships with the Heat, as well as four of the last five league MVP awards, one would think he has no room for improvement. But James' goals are lofty as ever.
"I want to be the greatest of all time," he explained. "That's my motivation. It's that simple. It's not simple. But for me it is. That's my mind frame. It's not to be the greatest of all time in anyone else's book or how they judge the greats. It's for me. I feel like I have the potential to continue to get better and to maximize my time while I play this game of basketball. I want to be the greatest."
Though James said he "got better" over the offseason "in every aspect," he has no illusions as to whether he has surpassed the likes of Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, or Magic Johnson.
"I'm far. I'm far away from it," James said. "But I see the light."