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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

When the Miami HEAT take the floor against the Boston Celtics on October 30th, everything will be different. For the first time since the fall of 2006, the HEAT sit atop the NBA world, looking to fend off all challengers. For the first time in their NBA careers, LeBron James and Chris Bosh are NBA Champions. Yet, for the 25th time in franchise history, the HEAT are just weeks way from their season opener, and everything is the same.

HEAT coach Erik Spoelstra addressed reporters on Friday at the HEAT’s Media Day. He spoke of the journey the team is about to undertake.

“We’re all going to start together again from the beginning. None of us have been through this before. That type of opportunity is really invigorating,” Spoelstra said. “We know how difficult it is to start from the very beginning of the starting line and to try to climb that mountain again. We’re the only team right now that has an opportunity to win a title two years in a row.”

Yes, the HEAT are defending champions, but they are also starting at the same place as every other team. During the season, coaches stress moving on from games, treating them as independent entities. Entire seasons are no different. As great as last season was for the HEAT, the confetti has been swept away and champagne scrubbed from the locker room. Nobody understands this more than Spoelstra.

“I’m not even going to use the word ‘repeat’ We have an opportunity to win another title. Being around winning teams and two championship teams, I just have a deep seeded respect for how hard it is. It’s hard to win one,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a different challenge for us this year. But in general, I think it’s cliché to say it’s harder to win the second time. It’s just difficult. You have to commit fully, reinvest into the team.”

During the regular season last year, the HEAT experimented with non-traditional lineups. These “small” lineups often featured Chris Bosh and LeBron James playing center and power forward roles. The experiment’s grand finale took place in the Petri dish otherwise known as the NBA Finals. Against the Thunder in the Finals, the HEAT often went small, unconventional and positionless.

The HEAT don’t have any intention of going back to a more conventional style.

"Thankfully we went through the hard part of playing positionless. That’s not easy. There were times two years ago where it was ugly. If you’re trying to think conventionally but play unconventionally, that’s a challenging thing to do,” Spoelstra said. 

“It forces you to look at things through a different lens. Right now we have a higher comfort level to throw players out there. The system will allow guys to play in different spots on the floor without thinking, ‘what position am I?’” 

While the idea of playing positionless has been bandied about the league for a long time, no team has had as much success as the HEAT. If the HEAT are to be the model of the unconventional, then it is James’ versatility that allows it to happen.

“The one guy that makes it all happen is LeBron,” Shane Battier said. “Talk about a skeleton key if there ever was one. It’s LeBron. With LeBron, you can throw any lineup out there and it will work.”

The HEAT are in a different position than they were a year ago. With a new banner set to be raised and a new positional philosophy, it’s easy to think that everything has changed. That’s not the case.

The past two seasons, Spoelstra emphasized the belief in the process over the results. He has stressed the importance of a defensive identity and a trust in one another. Those central tenets haven’t changed.

“We will establish our identities. How we want to play,” Spoelstra said. “We will always defend, or at least put that emphasis on defending and rebounding the basketball first and foremost.”

Spoelstra has always framed the season as a shared experience for the team. A season is a journey that has ups, downs, no short cuts and forever pushes onward. About to take the first few steps down the path, Spoelstra’s goals sound the same as they have in the past.

“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to win a title. This is a completely new journey for us, Spoelstra said. “To be able to go through an 82 game season, to try to improve, to hopefully peak at the right time and persevere through the moments of truth of that second season.“

The HEAT are continuing a shift to a new lineup philosophy that eschews convention. Once a model of positional tradition, the HEAT are becoming a model for new-age positionless thinking. At the same time, the HEAT are building upon the same long-standing beliefs that guided them to a championship just over three months ago.

Standing on the precipice of the 2012-2013 season, things will surely be different for the HEAT. But the more things change, the more they stay the same. That much was apparent on 2012 HEAT Media Day.