'Scary' Miami Heat open NBA training camp
LeBron James looked at the assembled talent in the Miami Heat locker room, and one word came to mind.
"Scary," he said.
Translated, that means James thinks the Heat will be even better than they were a season ago. Oddly, James' teammates expect the same from him.
After a season where he won just about everything besides Powerball - his third MVP award, his first NBA Finals MVP award and, of course, his first NBA championship - James is going back to work. He and the Heat convened for their annual media day today, the prelude to tomorrow's opening practice and the first step toward what the Heat hope is another championship push.
"We can be better than we were this past season," James said, on the day when he got sized for his first championship ring. "Are we better right now than we were just a couple months ago? Of course not. ... But we have the potential to be better.
"We have the potential to be a lot better. That is scary."
Chances are, the Heat will have to be better than they were last season to hoist another championship trophy next June. As if they weren't the team on radar screens across the NBA already once James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to team up in Miami during the summer of 2010, winning a title will only make them more of a target.
And then adding a player like Ray Allen, whose last NBA game was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in Miami when he played for the Boston Celtics, only raises the ante that much more.
"We have one target," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "And that's Miami."
There was plenty going on around the Heat, some of it newsy, some of it more humorous, as typically is the case at a media day.
Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh talked about how they're healing after injuries struck in last season's playoffs. Allen and Rashard Lewis - free-agent additions - posed for photos in new Heat uniforms. Shane Battier talked about the NBA's pet-peeve issue, flopping, hilariously calling it "a silent killer." Udonis Haslem was followed by a camera crew to, as he said, document "The Little 12," what he calls everyone not in the "Big Three" club of Wade, Bosh and James.
Haslem's cameras might have been the only ones not on James, who hasn't spoken publicly much since the Olympics ended.
"He's not on cruise control, no," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked about James. "He's as driven a professional as I've been around. He understands not only his legacy, but team legacy and the opportunity that this team and organization has. And he savors that. He's the ultimate competitor."
It took James nine years to win that long-coveted first title, after leading the Heat past the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. His clinching performance was a classic - a triple-double, 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds. James came out with 3:01 remaining and the celebrating started, waving his arms and jumping on the sideline, then wrapping anyone and everyone he could reach in massive embraces.
So began his summer vacation. It lasted about a week.
His commitment to USA Basketball and the London Games started only a few days after the Heat championship parade. When that ended - with a gold medal - he jumped back to his personal business matters, including a trip to China and a decision to switch agents from Leon Rose to longtime friend Rich Paul.
There were more workouts with Thunder star Kevin Durant, just like last year, and a little bit of vacationing thrown into the mix.
Now, it's all about basketball business.
"I've thought that for a long time that I'm the best player," James said. "That's the way I approach the game. Anytime I step on the floor, I think I've told you guys that before, I want to be the best player on the floor. That's just the confidence I play with. That's not taking away from all these other great players that we have in this game today."
He averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists in this past regular season, then upped the ante to 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in the playoffs.
Monster numbers, and the Heat can't wait to see what he does for an encore.
"Do it again," Bosh said, when asked what to expect from James. "Just continue to be himself. He's a hard worker, naturally. He doesn't have to repeat what he did last year. This year's a new year. It's going to present different challenges and we're going to have to overcome them. He's going to have to overcome them. We're all going to have our team challenges and personal challenges that come our way."
James said he found time to work on some aspects of his game during the offseason, though he obviously didn't have anywhere near the same break he had after the 2010-11 season - which was lengthened by a lockout, and didn't have an Olympics in there, either.
"He's on a hell of a run," Battier said. "It's almost like throwing a no-hitter. You don't want to talk about it. You just want to ride it out and see where it goes. But if there's one guy who could top what he's done in calendar 2012, it's No 6. I wouldn't count him out or bet against him."