October 4, 2013

Griffin says "it's on me" to show Miami Heat that he belongs

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — There's not a lot of mystery about what the Miami Heat rotation will look like this season.

Such is life when basically an entire team from one season stays together, particularly when that team was good enough to win its second straight NBA championship.

Those in this Heat training camp combined to play 95 percent of the minutes Miami logged last season, did 96 percent of the scoring, grabbed 94 percent of the rebounds, made 95 percent of the starts and posted 99 percent of the blocked shots. And those numbers — along with, well, common sense — clearly suggest that it might be a daunting task for someone new, like Campbell alum Eric Griffin, to make the team or crack an already-established championship rotation.

"Obviously, our team has to evolve," Heat forward and reigning NBA MVP LeBron James said after practice Wednesday, the midway point of Miami's camp. "We can't be the same team we were last year. I don't think that's good enough to win a championship. ... The sets and the way we defend will be the same, but there will be tweaks along the season that we feel like can help us more."

The Heat won 66 games last season, put together a 27-game winning streak and bring back every rotation player except Mike Miller, who was set free under the amnesty provision in a move that will save Miami roughly $40 million in salary-cap space and luxury-tax payments over the next two years.

It's not exactly guesswork to say that James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers are all etched into the starting lineup. Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem and Norris Cole almost certainly will have rotation spots and one of them, probably either Battier or Haslem, will be starting. Barring some sort of personnel move, James Jones, Joel Anthony, Rashard Lewis and Greg Oden will have places on the roster as well.

That's 13 players. The Heat can only carry 15, and aren't obligated to keep that many. So in essence, there's seven other guys in camp fighting for no more than two spots on the roster, which would then give them the chance to fight again for time in the rotation.

Roger Mason Jr. figures to have a big chance of sticking around, particularly since he would fill some of the void left by Miller. Jarvis Varnado was on the Heat roster last year and certainly wouldn't surprise anyone by being back this time, and Michael Beasley is getting a chance to resurrect his career in Miami, the place it started five years ago.

It all means someone like Griffin knows there's a serious logjam in front of him if he's going to be in uniform with Miami on opening night.

The Heat like Griffin, a 6-foot-8 forward who's probably best known for the YouTube-sensation-level dunk he had against North Carolina A&T in 2011. And Griffin knows about doing things the hard way — he got cut multiple times from teams in middle school and high school before finally coming into his own as a senior.

"They already know what I can do," Griffin said. "It's on me to just show them why I belong here."