As Season Nears, LeBron James Isn't Only Miami Heat Player Facing Uncertainty
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — The nickname has stuck for more than three seasons now, ever since three perennial All-Stars chose to play together with the Miami Heat during the summer of 2010.
It has stuck even as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Eddie House, Jamaal Magloire, Carlos Arroyo and now Mike Miller have moved on. It has stuck even as Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Rashard Lewis and now Greg Oden have come aboard.
That was illustrated again earlier this week, before the Heat left for the Bahamas, when Mario Chalmers busted into Udonis Haslem's media-day video interview with his own camera.
"We support each other," Haslem said, accepting the interruption.
"Little 12, baby," Chalmers said.
"As long as you ain't the Big Three or Lil' Wayne, you can get on this show," Haslem said.
"Little 12!" Chalmers said.
Yes, Little 12. That's been the proud moniker of the supporting cast—those who know they'll never get the same accolades and attention as Miami's marquee trio, but have learned to make light of their lesser status. But when it comes to public concern about their NBA futures, one could argue that the nickname requires an update: it's actually the Little 14, or everyone other than the Big One, LeBron James.
Even nine-time All-Star Dwyane Wade, who, like James, can opt out of his contract in July, acknowledged at media day that "there will be a lot of media attention around LeBron James' decision" over the summer, without mentioning—or being asked about—his own.
But while James' status may be on everyone's minds, every other current Heat player has cause to be thinking about the upcoming summer. When the 2013-14 season comes to a close, it's possible that every single Heat contract could come off the books.
Yes, every one.
Of course, that remains unlikely, since Joel Anthony wouldn't be wise to opt out of the $3.8 million he's owed for 2014-15 and the Heat will probably find their team option for Norris Cole ($2 million) to be affordable.
But look at the rest.
"We've got a lot of guys with options," Haslem said, smiling.
He has one, along with James, Wade, Chris Bosh and Chris Andersen.
Then there are six guys in the last years of their deals: Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Ray Allen, James Jones, Greg Oden and Rashard Lewis.
Make it eight if Michael Beasley and Roger Mason Jr. make good on their current tryouts.
This was by design. Pat Riley attempted to align other potential expirations with those of his three premium players so he would be positioned to restock and reload. Still, it presents potential challenges for Erik Spoelstra, who must keep everyone concentrating on the collective amid their individual, personal uncertainty.
He does have experience in this area. Spoelstra did his most underrated coaching job in 2009-10, guiding an undermanned squad to 47 wins even with the organization squarely and openly focused on the subsequent summer, when just about everyone—from Wade on down—would hit the open market.
This time around?
"Yeah, we'll address it, but we don't need to belabor it," Spoelstra said. "Our guys aren't naive to the business of basketball, and you have to respect everybody's point in their career when they become a free agent. There's nothing wrong with it."
Spoelstra added that the Heat have been "trained and conditioned for this type of moment more than any other team. And what we talk about all the time is just focus on now. At some point during this week, two things, we have to let go of what we did last year. We have to let it go, and it's gone, and we have to forget it. But we also have to focus on now, and not become obsessed with the future, because it's unknown. That's the way we've treated it before. It will probably be a bigger storyline out there than in our locker room."
How was it handled in 2009-10?
"Nobody talked about it," said Chalmers, who was one of the youngest pieces then. "That's the main thing that really helps a team, is don't talk about it. Right now, we're focused on winning this third championship and going from there."
There are a couple of key differences compared to that season.
First, as Jones noted, this is an older, more mature team that has tasted winning—and loves it too much for anyone to accept selfish agendas.
"I think I'd be a little more concerned if we had unestablished players, if we had a lot of young guys playing for contracts," Battier said. "The guys in our locker room are a little bit different. Established players, they are all going to play somewhere next year. But I don't think the guys in the locker room will lose sight of why we are all here, and that is to do something incredibly special."
Second, the Heat were not a "hot" team at that stage, as 2006 marked the last time they had advanced past the first round of the playoffs.
"You have concern when you feel people want to go elsewhere," Wade said. "I don't think anybody here is looking to go elsewhere. We don't have guys waiting to get out of this situation. This is a very good situation to be in, I think people enjoy being in it. Guys thinking about their contracts, I don't see that as a problem. We don't have young guys looking for their first major re-up to get paid. We've got guys who got paid a few times. So I don't think of that as being a problem. It won't be a problem."
Still, it's unreasonable to expect people, in any profession, to be oblivious, to not give any thought to how they might fit at their current spot in the future. Where they might live. What they might make.
"I definitely have to put it out of my mind," Chalmers admitted. "I did think about it a little bit over the summertime, but right now it's too early to tell. We'll see what happens. Of course, I do want to stay in Miami, but I have to do what's best for me and my family."
Then there's Battier. Now 35, he has previously said that he might retire after the season. Asked earlier this week, though, he left all doors ajar.
"You know what, I have options," Battier said. "I think I have options both in NBA circles and non-basketball circles, which is exciting. I'm going to play this year trying to enjoy every single detail, and I'm going to play like it's my last. And if not, I will have thoroughly enjoyed my second-to-last year."
The Heat will enjoy this year more if every player—Big One or Little 14—adopts that approach.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Miami Heat for Bleacher Report.
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