Selling position versatility
Free agent offseason moves give Heat multiple roster options
MIAMI — Hassan Whiteside is the center; Goran Dragic is the point guard. After that, you’re on your own when it comes to delineating roles for the Miami Heat roster that has been cultivated by Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra. More importantly, the players are on their own. That, James Johnson said after re-signing, is why he wanted to be back.
That, first-round pick Bam Adebayo said, is what makes this opportunity so fascinating.
That, Kelly Olynyk said after signing, is what made his relocation so intriguing.
“They’ve turned guys that have been in the box for so long into guys who break out of that box and become something special,” Olynyk said after leaving the Boston Celtics in free agency. “And you can see it, from top to bottom of their roster.”
Including even in summer league, where Adebayo was cast at center on offense, switched onto the perimeter defensively, even advanced the ball across midcourt with bust-out dribbles.
“Miami said they were going to let me play,” the big man out of Kentucky said, “so I’m playing freely and I’m having fun with my teammates.”
With the roster almost full, the next logical step typically would be defining roles: Who starts at power forward? Who starts at small forward? Um, yeah, no. “We don’t care,” said Spoelstra, “about conventional boxes.”
It is that precise lack of black and white that distinguished the Heat’s revival last season from 11-30 at midseason to 41-41 at the finish, a lack of convention
“It’s a bunch of hard-working guys out here who go out every night and play their butt off.” Kelly Olynyk, Heat forward
Johnson said that carries from the court into the locker room.
“I think the way that Coach Spo allows us to coach each other, coach ourselves through the bad and the good, confront each other, enable each other to become better players and not enable each other in a bad way, I think that’s how we probably jell so quickly and were able to have a successful second half,” he said.
“I just think this year we’re just going to continue because we know what we want out of each other. We know we’re going to hold each other more accountable and we don’t have to wait 30 games, 40 games until we start doing that.”
After Spoelstra’s cycling through anything-goes rotations last season, this time it will be with players arriving to camp ready for anything and everything.
Including Olynyk, which might just take him back to his days as a 6-foot-10 point guard in 11th grade.
“It’s a bunch of hardworking guys out here who go out every night and play their butt off,” he said. “And you know you’ve got some skilled guys, guys who just go out and play together. When we played them last year four times, it was a battle every single night and you couldn’t take one possession lightly, and that’s what it’s all about.
“I think the way they play and have a bunch of people handle the ball and a bunch of guys being able to make plays for each other, and just how hard they play on the defensive end and together, and their tempo, as well, I think it’s a great fit for me and I think I’ll fit right in.”
Riley said that is because it is an approach designed to fit everyone and anyone.
“Wherever coach Spo wants to take this positionless game . . . wherever it goes, however he feels, the whole concept of positionless has to do with the offense,” Riley said. “It does not have to do with the size of the player. It’s that every player basically knows all the positions. So wherever you’re at on the court, the motion in the offense, everybody knows what the motions are.
“Some players feel more comfortable in certain areas of the court and you want to put them there, but that’s the general concept. Run like hell, get to your spots, and run 22 handoffs and three pick-and-rolls and then look for a three. I like it.”
James Johnson’s versatility handling the ball allowed him to initiate the Heat’s offense last year. The forward had a breakout season averaging 12 points, three assists and four rebounds per game.
The Heat’s positionless approach was one reason Kelly Olynyk signed with Miami this offseason.