As the Miami Heat gear up for another run toward the NBA Finals this season, they do so after the shortest turnaround from the end of one season to the beginning of another in history.
After just seven weeks off following the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals in mid-October, the Heat enter into the 2020-21 campaign trying to build up a fresh supply of physical and emotional energy needed to maintain consistency on the league's highest level.
As an organization, the Heat pride themselves on not using excuses -- and as the proud team heads into an unprecedented season, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is trying to accentuate the positives surrounding these circumstances.
"Historically this is different," Spoelstra said during a Thursday video conference with reporters. "It's a quicker turnaround for those kind of teams, but if you consistently go to the Finals, guys like Golden State, all of LeBron's teams, our former teams, those were quick turnarounds. Finishing in late June and starting up in September. Regardless, those were quick turnarounds, but that's the price of chasing something great. It's much easier to be a lottery team, to be a losing team, to be a team that doesn't make the playoffs, be a team that just gets knocked out in the first round, that doesn't take a great deal of emotional expense or physical expense."
No player expended more emotional and physical energy during the Heat's impressive bubble run to the Finals than All-Star Jimmy Butler. Spoelstra acknowledged that Butler, 31, will likely come into the season on a minutes limit after averaging 43 minutes per game in the Finals.
"He's not going to be playing the kind of minutes, regardless, that he was playing when he was in his early 20s," Spoelstra said. "We were already adjusting that last year during the regular season, pre-bubble. I understand how much energy, physical and mental and emotional energy that he expended during that bubble run, but I tell him all the time: This is the life you chose. Ultimately, this is what you wanted, is to be a part of these kind of teams that play deep into the playoffs."
Since agreeing to sign with the Heat last summer, Butler has been open about how much he has enjoyed the Heat's hardworking culture and has fit in quickly to the structure that Spoelstra and Heat president Pat Riley have built over the past two decades. But Spoelstra's message was one of patience not only for Butler but also for several other Heat veterans who extended themselves to the physical edge during an unexpected run to the Finals.
"This is something different," Spoelstra said. "And this is why we brought Jimmy here, is to be a part of something that's harder, that's much more difficult to try and accomplish. But you want to be mindful of all this, it is a long journey. I think one of the most beautiful qualities that Jimmy has is of gratitude. Of having an opportunity to compete for a title. And to be around like-minded people, his teammates, but also as an organization, we're aligned with him in how he views competition. So no, I'm not expecting him on Sunday to be in a full scale, Hunger Games, pads-up practice.
"I don't think we're ready for that anyway, but he understands as well as anybody you can't skip steps, there will be a process to it. But we'll try to be as smart as possible and mindful as possible to keep -- the guys that need to be fresh, we'll keep them fresh. It's our first time going through this, even though this is a little bit different, obviously."
Throughout Spoelstra's news conference with the media, he echoed a similar message of gratitude. He has total confidence that Butler and the rest of his teammates will be up for the challenge, he just knows that the pacing for this particular year will be different even in comparison to other long championship seasons in the Heat's past.
"You have to be grateful for this opportunity," Spoelstra said. "There's a lot of different factors to this. One, we're grateful that we're one of the last two teams playing. So there are a lot of teams that haven't been playing for months; almost going on a year really since the last time they've played in a competitive game whether it's college or in the NBA ... this year has been completely like no other year. If you're going in with the same mind that you just want to get back to what you used to do and have that kind of comfort level, you're just not going to get it. You have to continue to adapt and adjust."
Spoelstra appreciates what his team accomplished, but he isn't hiding from the mental toll the successful year had on everybody. The grind and potential hangover from the bubble run that he outlined is the same one many NBA teams are dealing with early in training camp.
"Our season last year in many ways felt like three seasons," Spoelstra said. "The training camp, and preseason, regular season. Then the quarantine and then gearing up for the bubble -- then the bubble. We saw a lot of players really grow from that experience, particularly our young players. So we're excited that we have an opportunity to start another season. Even when we were in the bubble, you just weren't totally 1,000 percent sure that this was going to happen ...
"Yes, for some of our guys, particularly our veteran players, I will have to be mindful to keep them fresh, particularly mentally. They also have some experience enough to know how to manage themselves ... you have to take some time building [a rhythm], and you don't want to skip steps, but you don't want to be mindful of the long haul as well."