LeBron James is not saying much of anything about next season. The second edition of “The Decision” is still nine months away, and the four-time NBA MVP is all too aware of the already-incessant buzz about what uniform he will be wearing a year from now.
There’s more important matters to tend to first, he said Monday, on the eve of the formal start to his fourth training camp with the Miami Heat. And in between getting married, taking some time off and globetrotting about tending to business interests this summer, James offered the following assessment of his basketball abilities since he was last seen carrying his team to a win in Game 7 of the NBA Finals:
“I got better,” James said. “I’m a better basketball player than I was last year, in every aspect.”
Let the new season begin.
With mostly the same faces – the notable changes are the amnesty-mandated departure of Mike Miller, along with the additions of Greg Oden, Michael Beasley and Roger Mason Jr. to vie for spots in an already-jammed Heat rotation – Miami gathered as a team for the first time Monday, one day before training camp opens in the Bahamas.
And as typically is the case with the Heat, there’s plenty of story fodder.
Coach Erik Spoelstra just signed a contract extension, Dwyane Wade is driven to prove doubters wrong once again, Ray Allen and Chris Andersen came back on deals that would be considered bargains, Beasley is trying to resuscitate a career that started with so much promise in Miami five years ago and an oft-injured Oden is simply trying to get his going.
But the one talking point that will overshadow all others this season, even with James trying to win a fifth MVP and the Heat looking to join the rarefied club of teams who have reached the Finals in four consecutive years, is what will happen next summer. That’s when James, Wade and Chris Bosh all can opt out, become free agents on July 1 and possibly leave Miami.
“It’d be different if we had a young ballclub that pretty much didn’t know how to handle the media and got suckered into questions,” James said. “We have a veteran ballclub that’s heard everything, that’s seen everything and it won’t be a problem. Guys understand where I stand and that’s all that matters.”
So, as for where he stands …
“I don’t think anybody is looking to go elsewhere. … We all know inside our locker room that LeBron’s committed to this team,” Wade said.
James remains convinced that he made the right decision when he chose Miami in 2010 after seven years in Cleveland, and has given no indication that he is plotting his escape from South Florida. He said there’s no need to talk about what’ll happen next summer, though Spoelstra plans to at least give it a cursory mention.
The Heat message, as conveyed by both players and coach on Monday, was simple: Winning it all again this season is the only real plan.
“What we have is a tremendous opportunity and we have a very highly motivated group of guys in that locker room and they understand what we’re playing for,” Spoelstra said. “That excites me.”
Wade was even more succinct.
“I think we understand the team that we have and understand this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us,” Wade said.
Perhaps overshadowed by James’ Game 7 performance against San Antonio in last season’s finals – he had 37 points and 12 rebounds, plus hit the jumper with 27.9 seconds left that essentially clinched the title for Miami – was the miracle finish in Game 6. Allen’s 3-pointer late in regulation capped a frantic rally in a game the Heat ultimately won in overtime.
James watched Game 6 countless times this summer. Game 7, maybe just three or four times. The reason was simple, he said: He finds Game 6 to be more inspiring.
“I want to be the greatest of all time,” James said. “That’s my motivation. It’s that simple. It’s not simple. But for me it is. That’s my mind frame. It’s not to be the greatest of all time in anyone else’s book or how they judge the greats. It’s for me. I feel like I have the potential to continue to get better and to maximize my time while I play this game of basketball. I want to be the greatest.”
He was asked how close he is to that loftiest of goals.
“I’m far. I’m far away from it,” James said. “But I see the light.”