While the San Antonio Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich didn't get a chance to see NBA Finals MVP LeBron James in their preseason visit to Miami on Saturday, Popovich knows enough of James to see that the all-star forward is improving after winning his first championship.
While his fans might argue there's not much to improve on, Popovich told ESPN'S Miami Heat Index the James seems stronger mentally after having the pressure of winning a championship off his back.
"He's so good already," Popovich said. "We all know what his skills are. He's a great passer, he can rebound, he can defend. But I think, if anything, he is maturing mentally in the sense that he is enjoying playing the game. He doesn't listen to talking heads (media critics) anymore — or a lot less than when he first came in the league."
Not surprisingly, James voiced his appreciation for Popovich's comments saying "Pop knows what he's talking about. That's why he's one of the best to ever coach this game."
While the two are exchanging praises and pleasantries in the preseason, there's no doubting Popovich and the Spurs will have the Heat in their crosshairs when the season begins as the Spurs try to challenge for another championship while James and the Heat look to repeat.
While Manu Ginobili said the Heat's additions this offseason, notably Ray Allen, give Miami enough talent to repeat, Tony Parker spoke on the challenges of repeating as champions.
"It's hard to do it back-to-back. It's going to be the same thing for (Miami). They're going to go through the same process we went through. Every one you win, it becomes harder and harder. You have to make sure you don't skip steps. Do all the stuff that made you successful the first time, but even more that next year."
It won't take long for the Spurs to get a chance to see the improved Heat team with James. The Spurs will be back in Miami on November 29 for their first of two games against the defending champs this season.