DALLAS – One by one, the Miami Heat assistant coaches filed out of the locker room. Head coach Erik Spoelstra had already finished speaking with reporters, and still there was no sign of the Heat players. Not until some 40 minutes after the final buzzer of Miami's latest setback did the locker room finally open, revealing a team huddled in frustration.
Having apparently tired of their mediocrity, the Heat held a lengthy players-only meeting following a disheartening 106-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The Heat are now 9-8, far below their expectations for a season that began with LeBron James(notes), Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) vowing to chase history.
"It was a well-needed team meeting where everybody got an opportunity to get off what they had in their chest or what they had in their head about us figuring things out," James said. "Right now we are a 9-8 team and we have to own up to that. Does our record speak of what team we can become? No, I don't think so. We're 9-8 because we've been playing like that and we have to figure things out, which we will."
Bosh said the meeting was a "collective" decision. Wade tried to stress that the Heat started 30-20 during their run to the 2006 championship before righting themselves.
"We were just looking at each other and being honest, that's what it's all about," Bosh told Yahoo! Sports about the meeting. "I think when you're in situations like these and around guys all the time, you need to be honest with each other. Just talk and put our foot down about the season and put it in minds that we're better than this, and we're going to do better than this."
The Heat's frustration boiled over in the third quarter. Bosh barked at his teammates during a timeout in the third, including one moment when he and Carlos Arroyo(notes) also had words for teammate Joel Anthony(notes). James bumped into Spoelstra while walking to the bench during a timeout. Spoelstra didn't think the bump was on purpose, but also said, "That's the way it should be. I think we all were [frustrated]."
The Heat are now 1-7 against teams with winning records and have lost four of their past five games. When asked why this loss was the one that sparked a players-only meeting, Wade said: "We just felt like we needed it. Sometimes it's a feel."
"This is a new team, a new group of guys," Wade said. "Guys need to understand and know each other and get to hear each other talk. And I think we all feel better after the talk we have."
While the Heat's recent struggles figure to only increase speculation that team president Pat Riley could replace Spoelstra as coach, Wade said the players need to be accountable for the slow start.
"I never would put anything on the coach, win, lose or draw because they can give us the game plan, but they are not on the court playing," Wade said. "I think with this team, especially with the IQ of this team, we are smart enough to make adjustments on the floor. I don't think we are doing that as much as we want to. Now is the time to take ownership that this is our team, even though we respect our coaches for what they do."
The Los Angeles Lakers are trying to win a third straight championship and the Boston Celtics are aiming for their third NBA Finals appearance in four years. But neither of those teams have been targeted the way the Heat have since James, Wade and Bosh joined forces.
"This is a team that is new to each other," James said. "It's going to take time. But the thing we can do right now is just go out and just play, play harder, don't have any lapses. I think the fact that we know we are so talented individually, we feel we can have lapses at times."
- Erik Spoelstra