MIAMI—Television analysts have talked about LeBron James needing to adjust his game to play with Dwyane Wade. Both players invariably will, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is not pushing that notion.
“I made the point to LeBron that I don’t want to reinvent his game,” Spoelstra said in a wide-ranging chat recently. “I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable. As a two-time Most Valuable Player, we want to make sure what he does best, he will be able to do in our system.”
James will play at least three positions—small forward, point guard, some power forward.
Spoelstra has not asked him to scale back his scoring, though that is an expected offshoot of playing with Wade.
“LeBron certainly will play minutes during the game at point guard and handle the ball a lot,” Spoelstra said. “He will be a playmaker. But he has also been a scoring champ. He will be at the end of plays to finish them. He will be a facilitator. He’ll be so many different things. We want to take advantage of all his skills.”
Spoelstra will use preseason—camp opens on September 28—to decide whether to start Mario Chalmers or Carlos Arroyo or an intriguing lineup with swingman Mike Miller starting and James and Wade handling the ball. James was sixth in the NBA in assists last season, Wade 10th.
Defensively, James, Wade and Miller “are smart enough to know how to get in position against smaller point guards,” Spoelstra said. “Dwyane has guarded point guards often, LeBron the same. Mike has guarded three positions virtually his whole career. He once played half a season as Memphis’s backup point guard.”
So which player will handle the ball mostly late in games?
“Depends on the game,” the coach said.
Spoelstra loves his roster’s versatility: “It’s not conventional. Our system is going to be designed where multiple players can handle the ball and make plays, which hopefully will make us more dynamic. On one possession, one guy looks like the point guard, and on the next possession, the other one looks like the point guard.”
Spoelstra’s vision? “We want to be aggressive and attacking, make stops to create opportunities in the open court. Play at a pace that takes advantage of our skill and athleticism.”
At least one of the three stars—or two or three—always will be on the court until the outcome is settled, Spoelstra said.
On James, who spent three weeks here this summer and had lunch with the coach: “Great work ethic. He’s tireless. He’s a magnetic personality, engaging, makes people feel comfortable.”
Starting power forward Chris Bosh “won’t play the majority of his minutes at center” but will play some there, Spoelstra said. He and Udonis Haslem “could be a very good defensive and rebounding duo.”
Spoelstra, who met with every player and is “making sure guys are in world-class condition,” is “grateful” to owner Micky Arison and team president Pat Riley for the chance to coach this unique team: “The summer was exhilarating. For me, the celebration ended in July. After that, Pat’s words were ringing in my ears, ‘Just coach the team and do your job.’”
Barry Jackson, Miami Herald