Chris Bosh willing to play center

LOS ANGELES -- When Chris Bosh joined the Miami Heat in the summer of 2010, he told himself his days of playing center were finished. But after manning the 5 often in the Heat's run to the title last season, Bosh is willing to reconsider.

When Miami opens the 2012-13 season against the Boston Celtics on Oct. 30, Bosh said he expects to be listed as the starting center.

"It's becoming natural to me," Bosh told ESPN.com on Thursday. "I have a very unique opportunity to do something very special for myself and my team. I think all the time that you have to evolve and get better. This is me evolving as a player."

The 6-foot-11, 235-pound power forward said he was reluctant to make the change after dabbling at center in his time with the Toronto Raptors. Teammate LeBron James also initially shied away from playing down low, as well as being labeled as a point guard, with the Heat, preferring the comfort zone of small forward.

But James seemed more open to other roles and labels last season, earning the nickname "1-through-5" from Heat coach Erik Spoelstra for his ability to guard each position.

After seeing the results and the persistence of his coaches, Bosh ultimately relented as well. In Miami's amorphous lineup, the 28-year-old Bosh essentially manned the center role in the playoffs, playing next to forwards Udonis Haslem or Shane Battier as opposed to centers Joel Anthony or Ronny Turiaf in each of his nine postseason starts.

"It kept happening," Bosh said. "It's been happening since my rookie year. When I signed in Miami, I said, 'That's it. No more 5!' Next thing I know, I'm there again.

"And the coaches, I was just listening to what they were saying. They said, 'We're a much better team with you at the 5.' I said, 'Well ... OK.' Next thing I know we win a championship. It's like, 'Well. I've done myself a great service. And I'm gonna be at the center.' There's really no debating that. I just accept it and see how I can get better at it."

Bosh worked on his 3-point range before last season to make himself more flexible for Spoelstra's nontraditional style, and the Miami Herald reported Sunday that Bosh added 6 pounds of lean muscle to ready himself for a season at center for the Heat, who signed shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis this summer but again failed to add much help down low.

"We're such a unique team," Bosh said. "We have such great guys that are very talented. It's just all over the place -- I may be at the top of the key, I might be in the corner, I might be on the block, I might be on the wing. I prepare for everything."

Calling himself a center, however, may take some getting used to.

"The center, I've kind of taken the label off it," he said. "I just want to be out there playing. I just consider myself a player. I'm gonna play my game, I'm not gonna change up anything, I'm gonna try and improve, and if we're better with me at the center, then I'm willing to do it."

The Heat seemed that way last season, fighting off outside pressure to win 46 regular-season games (second-best in the Eastern Conference) and then a Bosh abdominal strain that cost the Heat big man nine playoff games en route to their first championship in the Big Three era.

Bosh said the palpable pressure the Heat faced last season is gone and he's beginning to tuck the memories away as the team readies for training camp. He's already got his eyes on a repeat bid, and has toned up on past champions this offseason to do so.

"I watch those NBA championship DVDs all the time," he said. "I've been watching the back-to-back champs, (trying to find) what happened in a back-to-back year. It's the same thing, and you have to go through the same thing all over again. And they say it's more difficult, so I'm just preparing myself for that."

Miami certainly has its work cut out for itself this season.

The Los Angeles Lakers retooled their lineup by adding two perennial All-Stars in Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the latter of whom surprised Bosh by landing in L.A. And the Oklahoma City Thunder bring back a speedy team that Bosh called a "testament to where the game is going."

He also cautioned overlooking the New York Knicks.

"I just wanna say -- the freakin' Knicks, man. I think they're going to be a good team," Bosh said. "Nobody's really talking about them, and I don't like it. They're flying under the radar right now. I think the Knicks are gonna be a very good team."

In the meantime, Bosh is soaking in his first title reign in the remaining days of the offseason before beginning the process of his first title defense.

"I get that question all the time: 'Has it really sunk in?' Two weeks into it, I'm like, 'Yeah, it's sunk in!'" he said. "I've been dreaming about this my whole life. It hits me every day.

"But we're in the mode where it's almost time for training camp, so I'm putting those memories right where they belong, in the past. We'll reminisce every now and then, but we have an important job this season coming up. We have to defend our title."