|Heat embracing end of long, difficult offseason|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 29 September 2007 10:14|
Oh, how the Heat probably wish that were true.
It's often been difficult during the five months since Miami's championship reign ended. The Heat missed some free-agent targets, lost three rotation members, endured forward Antoine Walker being robbed at gunpoint in his home and had other players' personal lives dissected on gossip pages.
Somehow, that angst will be set aside Tuesday, when the Heat open training camp - with eyes on reclaiming a title that slipped away too easily and too soon for their liking.
``There isn't anybody that's going to feel sorry for us,'' Heat coach Pat Riley said.
Riley won't allow Miami to feel sorry for itself, either.
Did everything this summer go according Miami's master plan following a first-round ouster from the playoffs? No, Riley acknowledges, but he also quickly points out that the core of the 2006 title team is mostly intact - the reason he believes Miami can again contend.
Shaquille O'Neal is healthy. Dwyane Wade will miss an early portion of the season, recovering from knee and shoulder surgeries, but should be full-strength soon. Alonzo Mourning is drawing extra motivation from this being his farewell season. That's three reasons right there for optimism.
``One of my biggest challenges so far as a professional athlete will be this season, and I'm looking forward to it,'' Wade said. ``When they talk about the Miami Heat getting knocked out in the first round, it's three names they name: Shaq, Dwyane and coach Riley. So I take that personally.''
Sure, the Heat lost James Posey and 3-point champion Jason Kapono, along with veterans Eddie Jones and Gary Payton. And Miami couldn't add coveted guards Mo Williams and Charlie Bell, plus saw East rival Boston acquire Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen with hopes of becoming an instant contender.
But Riley cautions that those transactions don't mean the summer that followed a first-round exit from the playoffs was wasted.
``I could care less about the perception,'' Riley said. ``I've been around this game long enough to know you can't do something great all the time. You can't come back every year and make the magical deal. The things we tried to do with free agents or trades just didn't work out.''
There will be a few new faces. Forward Dorell Wright will enter camp as a probable rotation player for the first time. And an influx of new talent will vie for jobs; Riley likes young players Jeremy Richardson, Devin Green and Marcus Slaughter, along with draft pick Daequan Cook.
``These guys are very skilled, very talented, very young, very hungry players,'' Riley said. ``And I think we need some of that injected out on the floor.''
Riley is proud of the offseason acquisitions, saying they'll surprise some people.
But some of the summer story lines surrounding the Heat weren't as enjoyable.
Walker was bound and robbed during a July invasion of his Chicago home; he wasn't injured. Rumors about Wade's private life provided fodder for the blogosphere, and O'Neal filed for divorce.
``I have great sympathy for guys' personal issues,'' Riley said. ``I hope they can find escape in the game.''
Amid the summer of discontent, there was some good news.
Riley announced he'll coach three more seasons, Wade's rehab is going according to plan and point guard Jason Williams - according to those who've worked out alongside him this summer - is healthy, after two years of battling knee issues.
The Heat acquired point guard Smush Parker to challenge Williams for the starting job. And, in maybe their most intriguing move, they signed Penny Hardaway, a 36-year-old swingman who's played in only four games the past two seasons because of injuries, but says he's pain-free now.
Hardaway says he can see Miami's desire to avenge last year's disappointment.
``Everybody is focused on the same goal,'' Hardaway said. ``I've never seen that on any other team, where the rookies are upstairs working really hard, the veterans come in and do individual workouts and being in the weight room. In a lot of cities, a lot of guys don't show until a day or two before camp. Not here.''