By Tim Reynolds
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MIAMI _ Chris Bosh didn’t want this to happen.
He’s still going to embrace his newfound opportunity.
Make no mistake, the Miami Heat know that they are entering a new world, one that lacks widespread championship expectations and doesn’t feature the player generally considered the best in the game right now. LeBron James is gone, the Big 3 era is finished and the Heat _ the franchise that has won the last four Eastern Conference titles _ have to prove themselves all over again.
Bring it on, Bosh said.
“When we look back on it, it’ll be a very special team because it was only a short period of time that we all had and it was a great four-year run,” Bosh said. “We’re at the point where we just leave it at that, that was a special team. It was special era, it’s over and we’re looking forward to starting something new.”
With James back in Cleveland, the Heat hopes now hinge on Bosh and Dwyane Wade, both of whom also were free agents this past summer. Wade announced his return to Miami by calling himself a “Heat lifer” in a social-media post, and the team built a marketing campaign around those words.
In short, Miami reminded fans that the team has typically welcomed challenge.
“Everyone in the organization has had enough time to get used to the idea that it’s going to be a different team,” Wade said. “It’s my 12th year here, we’ve had a lot of different teams. … You come to training camp and you don’t really think about the year before or who’s not in here, you just try to focus on the guys who are here.”
There are plenty of new guys, too.
Ray Allen is undecided about where or if he’ll play this season, but he’s no longer with the Heat. Shane Battier retired, Rashard Lewis isn’t back and James Jones followed James to Cleveland.
In their place: Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts, all three expected to have big roles for Miami as this season goes along. Norris Cole returns and presumably will get starter minutes at point guard, with Mario Chalmers likely to play both guard spots. Up front, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem will help Bosh and McRoberts on the glass, but there’s also likely to be some adjusting as all the new pieces fall into place.
“We have a team that we know is going to compete,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Here’s what to know about the Heat this season:
WADE WATCH: Wade’s scoring average has dropped in each of the last five seasons _ but then again, so have his field-goal attempts per game. With James gone, it certainly stands to reason that there will be more scoring opportunities for Wade. But he turns 33 this January, has had knee issues for years and has logged more than 32,000 minutes of regular-season and playoff time. How much he has left in the tank is a mystery.
3’S NEEDED: The Heat have embraced the 3-pointer, especially from corners. Who’s going to make them? Five of Miami’s six most-prolific 3-point shooters from the last four years are gone. Chalmers has made a team-best 498 3’s over the last four years, including playoffs, and Miami will need him to remain a threat.
BOSH’S ROLE: Bosh had 92 double-doubles in his last two seasons in Toronto. He’s had 60, total, in his four regular-seasons with Miami. Moving him away from the rim obviously played a role in his decreased rebound numbers, but he knows he’ll need to get back to some semblance of that former form.
SPOELSTRA’S RECORD: The knock from critics on Spoelstra has been that anyone could have succeeded at the helm of Miami’s talent-rich roster over the last four seasons. But some of Spoelstra’s peers marveled over the job he did under big pressure, and besides, he averaged 45 wins in his first two years on the Miami sideline _ without James.
LATE SURGE? The Heat play 23 of their final 36 games in the regular season against franchises that didn’t make the playoffs last season. While the playoff landscape will surely look different in 2015, it still means Miami could be set up to make a late-season charge.