The Other Guys
The role players of the Miami Heat, the NBA’s most scrutinized team, sound off.
by Jonathan Santiago / @ITSjonsantiago
They’ve won 13 out of their last 14 games after starting the year with an underwhelming 9-8 record. A couple tweaks to their rotation and a players’ only meeting over a month ago have the Heat playing their best basketball of the season. Just in time for a highly-anticipated Christmas Day match-up with the defending champions.
And though the scrutiny on South Beach is focused particularly on their three superstars, that doesn’t mean the Heat’s role players are off the hook.
“They’re on our team for a reason,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said, praising the supporting cast’s response to the media attention their team faces. “Because one, they’re professional. They’ve been in that (complementary) role before, probably on another team. They’ve had significant roles on their teams and they’ve been able to help make the game easier for each other (which is) what they’ve done here.”
For the Heat’s other guys, enduring criticism from basketball pundits to reach a common goal is not a problem.
“The focus and the emphasis now is to be able to win multiple championships,” said Heat forward James Jones.
That’s right. Not a championship. Championships.
“All of our complementary players made an effort and a conscious decision to come here and step into whatever role they needed us to help the team win,” continued Jones, who’s no stranger to the big stage with two Conference Finals appearances in his career . “Because we feel we can provide something to the team and also the team can provide us with an opportunity to win.”
Though he’s had opportunities to win before, Jones admits the formative years of his career were focused on individual rather than team-oriented goals. Now in his seventh season, Jones is finally understanding the value of team success versus personal achievement, which makes him appreciate his position as a contributor to this Heat team even more.
“Individual accomplishments really don’t hold much weight because every year another season starts and the stats start all over again,” Jones said reflectively. “For me and a lot of other guys here, we’re really just trying to do something that we can cherish for the rest of our careers and the rest of our lives.”
Jones says he and his Heat teammates are well aware of the external expectations from the fans and the press. However, their internal goals are what matter most and keep them intently focused.
“From the outside looking in, people will make assumptions,” Jones said. “People will have all types of expectations – unrealistic, some of the extremely realistic. But, it really doesn’t matter because they’re not strapping up, suiting up and playing these games. The only things that matter in our locker room are our expectations and we expect to compete on a high-level and compete for championships.”
So is it a challenge to block out the chatter?
“It’s not hard,” Jones said confidently. ”Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Whether or not they know what they’re talking about, whether or not they’ve been in this spot, whether or not they’ve ever had an opportunity to chase what we’re chasing – they’re entitled to their opinion. And we take it as that, just opinion.”
His teammate, Carlos Arroyo agrees. But the line of questioning can take its toll, especially when the subject-matter becomes redundant.
“It gets annoying because a lot of times they (the press) have nothing to ask about but the same things over and over,” Arroyo said of the media analysis he and his teammates tolerate with every win and loss. ”It annoys us, but it’s part of being the team that we are, having the players that we have on this team and us maintaining our professionalism, at times, against ridiculous questions.”
As the team’s starting point guard, Arroyo is an easy target for criticism. Primarily a ball-handler throughout his career, it’s been an adjustment for the Puerto Rican guard to defer those responsibilities to superstar teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But, he says he feels comfortable adapting to his new role off the ball and as a spot-up shooter. And his numbers support his belief. A career 33 percent from beyond the arc, Arroyo is shooting 51 percent from three this season.
“I don’t care what the people say,” Arroyo said of being considered one of the Heat’s weakest links. “I got here with my hard work and dedication. I don’t think that my focus is on that. I never paid attention to the negativity that comes with it. We never paid attention to the negativity that comes with it…
“It’s just part of (the game), whoever it is the media, fans or whatever, trying to create some adversity for us,” he continued. “And we embrace it man. If that’s what’s going to make us better and give us character, we’ll take it. We’ve shown that we’ve handled it pretty well. And we’ll continue to get better because our goal as a team is much, much bigger than the criticism and negativity that comes with it.”
That backlash is something some members of the Heat are actually enjoying.
“It’s fun,” said a grinning Zydrunas Ilgauskas of being cast as the NBA’s biggest villains.
As far as attention goes, the Cavalier-turned-Heat center says there’s no comparison between Miami and Cleveland. With three marquee players, playing in Florida is much more magnified than it was in Ohio, despite the Cavs elite-level status over the last several years.