How Erik Spoelstra Is Keeping the Miami Heat Rolling Without LeBron James

The Miami Heat offense has not undergone a serious overhaul with the departure of LeBron James. 

Even though James has been the team’s offensive focal point for the past four years, part of the Miami offensive genius is its reliance on constant ball movement. 

This is a fairly obvious component to any successful scheme. Ball-stoppers disrupt flow, ice out teammates and allow the defense to narrow its focus. 

But this “pace and space” offense, as named by Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, takes this concept to an entirely new level. 

Ball movement for the sake of ball movement isn’t necessarily a good thing though either. Great offenses ping it around at times, but the key is having players who probe with dribble penetration—whether in the pick-and-roll or in random basket attacks. 

Side-to-side ball-swings are best utilized as play initiators. Everyone gets touches and everyone has equal opportunity to make plays should they become available.

For Miami, it’s helped to smooth the transition to the post-James era. Because Spoelstra has built a ball-sharing culture into his team and his best players (Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade) have adopted this mantra, it’s become a saving grace for a team that now lacks the single best playmaker in the league. 

Miami’s 105.3 offensive rating ranks 11th in the league, according to, and is a solid mark for a team with two key offensive cogs and a rotating cast of average role players. The 11-game sample size is small, but it’s only 3.7 points per 100 possessions off Miami’s 109.0 offensive rating with James last year. 

That’s not a huge drop-off considering the magnitude of the loss of James. 

The key is that Miami has succeeded in the half court—the more difficult portion of offense in which talent gaps become more accentuated. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Miami’s half-court offense generates 0.945 points per possession, good for sixth in the league. 

Given the loss of James and his devastating finishing ability in transition, we can reasonably assume that much of that decline in total offensive rating stems from Miami’s decreased run-outs. 

Within the pace-and-space system are various run-of-the-mill offensive sets that Spoelstra uses. He’s certainly a wizard at drawing up plays, but like most great coaches he does not want to unveil his bag of tricks this early in the season.

Specific designs are ultimately fruitless without execution, and Miami’s willingness to move the basketball quickly enhances the effectiveness of their sets. 

Take this big-on-big screening action Miami works with on this play against the Brooklyn Nets. The play itself is on the simpler side, with Chris Andersen screening Bosh’s man before Bosh runs in to set the on-ball screen for Norris Cole:

Not all bigs will take this play seriously. They’ll be lazy with the pick or not sprint off it into the on-ball screen, undermining the play.

Here, Andersen makes a point of getting a piece of Brooklyn’s Mirza Teletovic. This forces Mason Plumlee and Teletovic to switch, which is exactly what Miami wants. Instead of Plumlee hanging down low around the bucket and Teletovic maneuvering on the perimeter, it’s reversed. 

Both players are in roles they’re less comfortable with. 

As the play develops, Cole does a nice job of dragging out the screen—which is to say he makes extended and horizontal dribbles to draw two defenders, Plumlee and Deron Williams, toward him. As Bosh pops, he’s wide-open: 

Bosh could shoot here, but a semi-contested three-point shot isn’t an ideal look halfway through the shot clock. So he immediately swings the ball to change sides of the floor, forcing Plumlee to chase the ball from the block to the top of the key, then out to one wing and back toward the other. 

By the time Bosh follows his pass and runs in for a pick-and-roll with James Ennis, Plumlee has worked his tail off just to stay in position. Given that he’s not the most laterally-capable defender, it comes as no surprise that Plumlee gets caught out of position in his pick-and-roll coverage.

Teletovic, meanwhile, is now the last line of defense—a role in which he does not thrive. His contest is marginal at best, and Ennis scores rather easily:

The “pace” in “pace and space” doesn’t necessarily refer to the pace of the players or how quickly the team shoots the ball. It’s more about decision-making—catching and attacking quickly or swinging the ball immediately. The ball never sticks.

Even if the ball does remain in a single player’s hands for an extended period of time, it’s usually for a purpose. Rarely will you ever find a Miami player holding the ball and surveying. 

Here’s an example of that with Mario Chalmers, as he dribbles the ball toward the corner and seemingly into a double-team. 

The play starts with a familiar screen-the-screener action, this time with a guard (Cole) getting Bosh.

There’s a slight wrinkle this time in that Bosh pops for an elbow catch. After Chalmers hits him, he doesn’t walk through the motions with a token cut. He sprints off Bosh for a fake dribble handoff before darting backdoor:

Bosh finds him with a nice over-the-top pass, but Brook Lopez is there as a secondary layer of basket protection. With nowhere to go vertically, Chalmers becomes the one dragging the screen out to draw a double. 

Notice how Chalmers takes a second dribble toward the baseline, forcing Lopez to slide one more step away from Bosh:

This makes the throw back to Bosh that much more difficult to cover, and Lopez is nowhere near him as he fires the three-pointer: 

No amount of ball-sharing will replace James, but it’s a start. At 6-5, Miami is in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race and should be there come year’s end.

When the game is slowed down in the postseason and half-court offense becomes the key to offensive success, the pace-and-space concept will become especially crucial. 

Add that to their experienced roster, and Miami looks to be a team that could outperform its regular-season finish. 

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Tested by the Past, Erik Spoelstra Takes on Challenge of LeBron-Less Future

MIAMI — Erik Spoelstra always appreciated the unique nature of the opportunity, not just for someone with his unconventional beginnings, but for anyone. That was apparent from the official opening of the Big Three era, and even several weeks later, just before Christmas 2010, when he was chatting casually on the court of the U.S. Airways Center, after a comfortable victory against the Phoenix Suns

By then, the Heat had recovered from a surprisingly rocky beginning and had begun to roll, with 13 victories in 14 outings, on their way to 21 in 22. By then, Spoelstra had already survived two flashpoints when, if he’d been in some other organization, he might have been relieved of his responsibilities for some perceived greater good: the first coming as the Heat were recruiting LeBron James and Chris Bosh over the summer, and the second after “Bumpgate” and reports of a player insurrection accompanied a 9-8 start.     

And there would be plenty of controversies and supposed calamities to come, with failures in two NBA Finals sandwiching two championships. Still, through it all, Spoelstra rarely appeared shaken, let alone stirred. That self-security seemed to stem from a simple, soothing realization that the former video coordinator shared that night in Phoenix: “The way I look at it, I’ll be able to look back in 25 years and know that I coached this team.”

When no one, anywhere, ever expected him to.   

On the whole, over the course of four seasons and postseasons, he would coach that team quite well. 

Of course, now he now longer coaches that team, not the one that polarized this country and countries beyond like few others in modern sports history. Yes, he still coaches the Heat, now entering a seventh season, longer than all but one of his peers, Gregg Popovich, has been in a current coaching spot. But this is merely a basketball squad now, not a societal statement. It won’t be leading SportsCenter anymore; the question is whether, at the end of this season, it can lead an improved Southeast Division, one that includes the playoff-tested Washington Wizards who visit Miami on Wednesday night.     

The stakes for Spoelstra are still high, even if the spotlight has dimmed, the outsized expectations have shrunk and the rows of reporters have receded, after more than half the roster departed. Eight members of the 2014 Eastern Conference champions aren’t around anymore. Two, LeBron James as well as James Jones, are in Cleveland. The other six aren’t in the NBA anywhere, with two in China (Toney Douglas, Michael Beasley), one in legal trouble (Greg Oden), one working for ESPN (Shane Battier), one hoping to pass a future physical somewhere (Rashard Lewis) and one (Ray Allen) expected to leave his Miami house to return to the NBA somewhere at some point—maybe to the Cavaliers, but not to the Heat, at least not according to what he’s long been telling his teammates of the past two seasons.  

Spoelstra’s still in South Florida, seemingly on even more solid ground, with his two closest confidantes (David Fizdale and Dan Craig) elevated to stronger positions on the coaching staff, and Pat Riley involving him even more in the team’s personnel process. Yet some of the skeptics also remain, those who missed his first two seasons, when he took underwhelming rosters to the playoffs, or dismissed his role in the past four NBA Finals trips, when he evolved as a strategist and psychologist in order to better accommodate his top-tier talent. Those who will always believe, contrary to all common sense, that coaches of talented teams need to do little but roll out the balls. 

No one, anywhere, is saying he can do just that now.   

And even his admirers, such as former NBA coach Doug Collins, are wondering how he will confront his current circumstances. 

“The big thing for Erik now is he’s got to find the best way for this particular team without LeBron to win basketball games,” Collins said Monday, on an ESPN conference call. “It’s going to be a different offense. It’s going to be a different defense, and you’ve got a lot of different dynamics.” 

Spoelstra still doesn’t like to make much about himself, which is why his begrudging participation in a recent front-page Sports Illustrated profile—penned by the same writer to whom James dictated the “Coming Home” essaywas such a surprise. Instead, he habitually characterizes himself as just a cog in Miami’s machine, an embodiment of the Heat’s greater organizational philosophy. The tenets of continuity and stability are not only prized above all, but now vigorously promoted as the franchise tries not to slip into the same sort of abyss as Cleveland, and other sports franchises, after losing a megastar. The leftovers are calling themselves “Heat Lifers” now, as the standard-bearers for the “Heat Nation,” with Riley stepping out of character to tout the current roster on website videos and Alonzo Mourning providing voiceovers for television commercials, telling fans of a franchise that “hangs banners” that it’s “time to plant our flag.” 

“Well, the thing about it is you know with Miami, the blueprint is in place,” Collins said. “You know, Pat Riley has been there, Erik Spoelstra has been there 20 years. They call it the Miami way. This is the way we do things.”

It’s a way meant to stand out even more in light what Spoelstra has come to call the “microwave society.” The coach has used that “Spo-ism” since the start of camp, to explain how the NBA is beginning to resemble other enterprises, from the NFL or major corporations, with the constant turnover making it more difficult to create and sustain a culture.

“You put something together,” Spoelstra lamented, “and you’re not sure how long it will last.”

By contrast, his own career was on a slow cooker, at least until Riley anointed the understudy as the replacement in 2008. Spoelstra has worked for Heat since the summer of 1995 and Pat Riley for all but a month of that, and he has seen many remain in the organization for a similar length of time. He has acknowledged that, in NBA team-building, such stability “doesn’t guarantee you anything, but at least it gives you a head start.”

With eight new players, including three rookies, two reclamation projects (Shawne Williams, Danny Granger) and a key piece who missed the entire preseason (Josh McRoberts), he’ll now try to turn the league on its tail. 

Is he excited by the prospect of surprising so many? 

“It’s really reinvigorated a lot of us, but it’s not like going for three straight (championships) wasn’t invigorating,” Spoelstra said. “Come on. Let’s not take it too far. It sounds good as a storyline and everything, but let’s face it, that was electric. But yeah, you see potential with this team. I just don’t know how long it’s going to take to come together.” 

Even with Riley trying to preserve cap space for the blockbuster summer of 2016, when the market will be flush with free agents as well television-related cash, it appears that he’s given Spoelstra a few more tools than in his two seasons prior to the formation of the Big Three. 

Then, the newbie head coach managed a 90-74 record.

In 2008-09, the Heat went 43-39 while trading their second-best player, Shawn Marion, at midseason for Jermaine O’Neal; relying heavily on rookies Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley; and granting 21 starts apiece to Yakhouba Diawara and Jamario Moon. Even so, Spoelstra said it didn’t take long to determine what that team could do, because Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, both in their primes, provided a steady pulse.  

“Dwyane was phenomenal, coming off of the Olympics,” Spoelstra recalled. “Our main focus was to try to build a top-5 defense, and offensively we would just figure it out, and if it was close enough in the fourth quarter, Dwyane would just take over and will us to a win. It was that simplified a process. And we really did have a defense that got stronger and stronger and stronger as the season went on. But he was sensational. Particularly in the fourth quarter, in those big moments.”

Then came 2009-10, the bridge season to Riley’s courtship of James and Bosh. Virtually everyone on the team, including Wade and Haslem, was on an expiring contract, which raised reasonable concerns about whether so many potential short-timers would commit to each other. 

“In transition,” Spoelstra recalled. “[We had] a lot of free agents, but a lot of competitive Type-A personalities that didn’t want to just mail in the season. So they also understood that we would have to do it together and not just play for your contract. It helped the type of guys that we had.”

It is fairly remarkable in retrospect, especially considering that the immature Michael Beasley, benched in the final game of the first round, had been Miami’s second-most reliable scorer throughout the season.

Wade, however, tired of carrying so much. That summer, he sacrificed so the Heat could welcome two new stars. You know the rest. And, certainly, Spoelstra knows more about coaching than he did then. Few coaches in history have ever been fed to hotter flames. 

How much better prepared is he now, to put pieces together?

“Just being six years in that seat,” Spoelstra said. “Because of the nature of our team the last four years, you’re playing over 100 games, so many more experiences. You know, it’s a long season, you have two months extra each year. That experience is invaluable.” 

To some, that would seem to put in him in an enviable position: greater experience, less pressure. He has appeared a bit more relaxed, along with the organization as a whole, and not just when he was taking smiling selfies with Riley and Fizdale on Corcovado Mountain during the preseason trip to Brazil. The burden of perfection has been lifted, at least from the outside. 

“Nah, there’s always pressure,” Spoelstra said. “Every single one of us in this business. It’s self-induced for everybody. It really is. Regardless of whether it’s perceived that we’re under the radar or not, no coach ever feels like you’re getting a free pass. Not when you’re in this seat.” 

Never fun?

“No,” he said, smiling. 

With a career record of 314-189, he still sees room for growth. You will get a concurring opinion from some of those who have played for him, even those who like him personally; when there’s been grumbling about him professionally, it’s generally been about communication breakdowns, and come from those with unsettled roles in the rotation. Spoelstra says he still wants to learn how to better manage teams and personalities, how to better build a culture, how to better get everyone to buy into the same goal.

As the season starts, he appears to have some allies, starting with Wade, who may not be what he was, but looks like he can be more, at least in terms of availability, than he was last season. They have had their spats, some private, some—such as in Indianapolis during the 2012 playoffsquite public. Now, Spoelstra says they are “probably” closer than they’ve ever been, dating back to their initial collaboration in 2003, when Spoelstra was Wade’s dedicated skills trainer. 

“It literally is like a family,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve been around each other for 12 years. I mean, you’re gonna have everything. Exhilarating times, times where you are not on the same page, times where it’s tough. But also, there’s no textbook on it, because 99 percent of the coaches and players have never been together that long. That cycle usually changes every two or three years. It’s different for us.”

Even though they’re in the same place. Still standing, while trying to move forward. 

“Right, right,” Spoelstra said. “We’re the Heat Lifers. When you say that, it’s like, ‘Yeah, you are, too.’” 

Wade is not only still at his side, but pulling more teammates aside. The 10-time All-Star hasn’t typically embraced a vocal leadership role over the course of his previous 11 seasons, largely balking at babysitting the “goof troupe” of Michael Beasley, Daequan Cook and a less mature Mario Chalmers during Spoelstra’s first two seasons as head coach, and stepping even further back to allow the louder James to lead as the latter became increasingly comfortable in the Heat culture. But several times this preseason, Wade’s been spotted instructing between plays, and on the bench, often with an arm around a player’s shoulders. 

“He’s known that this team really needs it,” Spoelstra said. “He’s embraced it. And I think he’s at a point in his career where he sees the impact of it, more than he ever has. It’s really been powerful, how he’s been leading so far.”

Where they’re going? 

Nobody, from reporter to player to coach, really knows. 

Which means, in 25 years, this too might be quite the tale to tell. 


Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @EthanJSkolnick.

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Celtics cut Rodney McGruder, Christian Watford, Erik Murphy; more coming

Boston began trimming it’s roster today from the 20 available bodies for training camp down to the 15 allowed during the regular season:Brad Stevens says Celtics will keep Tim Frazier through tomorrow night but will waive Rodney McGruder, Christian Watford, Erik Murphy today.— Marc D’Amico (@Marc_DAmico) October 21, 2014There are no surprises here, although there was a bit of speculation that Murphy, a second round pick of the Bulls last year, might have an outside shot at sticking with the C’s.  You can expect Frazier to be cut as well after the final preseason game tomorrow night.That leaves just one more spot to go, which is almost certain to be the newly acquired Will Bynum, unless the Celtics pull off another trade in the next week.  Via Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:Will Bynum, who is expected to be waived this week after coming over from Detroit in last week’s Joel Anthony trade, was, as expected, a ghost yesterday. ‘He’s not here,’ Stevens said simply….

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Erik Spoelstra Pumps Up LeBron James with Passionate Shove in Miami Heat Win

MIAMI — Push had already figuratively come to shove for the Miami Heat, with the recent struggles of this season threatening to pull them apart. But Erik Spoelstra has spoken of translating pure intentions into positive action, and so he decided to demonstrate during Monday’s second quarter.

With his own momentary lapse of sanity.

That’s what Spoelstra, at the morning shootaround, said the team could probably use in the midst of its struggles. Here, LeBron James had just stormed down the center of the court against a pair of Blazers—Dorell Wright and Damian Lillard—losing his headband but winning two free throws, then clapping at the crowd for even more energy. Before he could get back to the bench, to take part in the timeout huddle, Spoelstra—gritting his teeth—blindsided him at the baseline with a celebratory two-handed shove.

James barely broke stride.

This sequence spoke to how far coach and star come since a long-ago—and much more concerning—time of crisis, the pre-parade days of December 2010, when a bump in Dallas signaled dissension to most of America. This one was a playful push, on a night the Heat got a 93-91 win they desperately needed to restart their pre-playoff push. As always with the Heat, it wasn’t as much about what they accomplished (pulling within a game in the loss column of Indiana prior to Wednesday’s showdown) as what they avoided (a complete fourth quarter collapse on the heels of Saturday night’s no-show in New Orleans).

But what about that shove?

“I saw him coming toward me,” James said later, laughing. “But I didn’t know he was gonna shove me.”

Spoelstra said it was spontaneous. But it also had an objective. The coach had liked the team’s early energy, yet had seen James get flustered when not getting calls.

“Just wanted him to continue to attack,” Spoelstra said. “I wanted LeBron to be aggressive, and everybody else would follow. But that energy was terrific on both ends of the court. That last six minutes of the second quarter is what we were talking about the last 48 hours.”

Those last 48 hours had started with a lamentable loss, and some stinging self-analysis, with Chris Bosh declaring “we suck,” and James finally shooting down the team’s series of ongoing excuses. It was followed by a playtime pause, a 30th birthday party for Bosh at a rented-out Marlins Park, where James and Dwyane Wade took turns dousing Spoelstra in the dunktank.

Then, Monday, the news came that Wade would miss his 19th game of the season, this one due to a sprained ankle. In his pre-game media session, James spoke vaguely of the “elephant in the room” that the team had addressed, and even implied some annoyance with others’ absences, by simply saying his own ankle was sore, but “I’m active, I’m on the floor, and it’s my obligation to make plays for our team to win.”

He then took a dozen shots in the first quarter, missing often with his jumper, but not slinking back into a shell. Meanwhile, Portland, without LaMarcus Aldridge and reduced to long-range shooting, kept missing from deep, 27 of their first 34 attempts from 3-point range through three quarters.

The Heat led by 11 entering the fourth, and soon by 17, not playing perfectly, but certainly passionately—especially James (32 points, six rebounds, five assists, four steals) and Chris Andersen (13 points, 11 rebounds in 23 minutes).

Then things started to slip. Again. Portland started making the types of shots they’d been missing. Miami stopped moving the ball.

“Harrowing,” Spoelstra called it.

After Mario Chalmers passed to Norris Cole near the corner, Cole lost the ball and fouled Mo Williams, and Williams made two free throws, it was tied with 30.9 seconds left.

That’s when Spoelstra called a 20-second timeout.

With Wade sitting, there wasn’t any question who would initiate the action against the Blazers’ 2-3 zone. Spoelstra had designed several different layers. The later ones weren’t necessary.

“LeBron made the right read,” Spoelstra said. “Saw a gap.”

James used a Chalmers screen of Lillard, got to his left hand, and laid the ball in over Robin Lopez.

James said that he felt, after two late turnovers and passing up other some other opportunities, “it was time for me to shoot one.”

Portland still had 11.4 seconds left, and a timeout, but chose not to use it.

“We kind of figured (Lillard) was gonna try to go for the win,” Bosh said. “He’s had a couple game-winners from three. Norris did a good job of running him off, and making sure he didn’t get the shot that he wanted.”

Still, Lillard got in the lane.

Bosh, who had called for more determination and communication, was the Heat’s backline.

“As soon as he picked the ball up, I was able to just follow the flight of the ball, and be there for help defense,” Bosh said.

If he hadn’t been, after all he’d said, he certainly would have heard it. Bosh had not only called out his teammates, but himself, on Saturday, feeling he’d let them down with his defense of late.

“No. 1 was the one that made it, OK,” Spoelstra said of Bosh’s jersey number. “If you’re going to go out there and put it on your shoulders, you have to make those plays, and he did. Lillard had daylight, he really did. And that’s what good defensive teams do, you have to make plays that are out of the box.”

The Heat made just enough, on a night Spoelstra got out of the coach’s box, and got in a physical show of approval.

A shove that James said he loved.

“It was great man, the enthusiasm, we had it back tonight,” James said. “We were flying around, we played Miami Heat basketball. You get wins when you are true to who you are.”

Now the Heat will try to stay this way, as they try to shove Indiana out of the top spot.

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Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Gets Win No. 300

With Sunday’s 93-79 win over the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra became the sixth-fastest coach in NBA history to reach 300 career regular-season wins.

He needed just 448 games to accomplish the feat and now owns an impressive 300-148 record—good for a .670 winning percentage—since taking over as Miami’s coach before the 2008-09 season.

Spoelstra‘s first two seasons in Miami didn’t exactly set him on the right path for reaching milestones, as the Heat averaged 45 wins and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs both years. Those first two teams were heavily reliant on Dwyane Wade, who would soon be joined in Miami by fellow stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Since the Big Three joined forces before the 2010-11 campaign, the Heat have gone 210-74 (.739 winning percentage) in the regular season, with a strong 46-21 playoff record (.687) to boot.

Wade, Bosh and particularly James get most of the credit, but Spoelstra finally seemed to garner the warranted respect last season when the Heat put together a 27-game winning streak on the way to a memorable NBA Championship. 

The 43-year-old Spoelstra further proved his coaching chops Sunday, as the Heat didn’t miss a beat with James sidelined by a broken nose.

Oddly enough, while Spoelstra is the sixth-fastest coach to 300 wins, Heat team president Pat Riley was actually the fastest. As coach of the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s, Riley only needed 416 games to reach the 300-win mark, meaning that he owned an incredible .721 career winning percentage upon reaching the milestone.

That winning percentage is undoubtedly excellent, but it falls short of the .739 regular-season mark the Heat have compiled since signing Bosh and James. 

When Riley reached the 300-win mark in December 1986, he already had two championships and a pair of NBA Finals losses to his name. Spoelstra can match the two titles, but has only made one unsuccessful trip to the Finals.

As much as the sixth-year coach has done to prove himself, Spoelstra‘s place in the record books may ultimately depend upon the length of James’ stay in Miami. If the superstar forward heads elsewhere after this season or next, Spoelstra will probably have a hard time matching Riley’s six rings as coach.

Of course, there’s always a chance that James will look to bring Wade and/or Bosh to his next stop, in which case it would probably make sense to bring Spoelstra along for the ride.

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Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says Greg Oden is getting stronger

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said Wednesday that center Greg Oden continues to strengthen his knees. The 25-year-old Oden, who signed a one-year deal with the Heat in August, isn’t expected to premier until roughly February. After the Heat used the amnesty provision on Mike Miller, the 7-foot, 285 pound Oden chose Miami over the Spurs, Kings, Mavs and Pelicans. Capturing consecutive Larry O’Brien Championship Trophies in June, the Heat will eventually benefit from Oden’s size, physicality and interior defense. More importantly, on a squad of stars, Oden won’t face brutal Heat or overwhelming pressure in Miami. The former … Continue reading →

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Erik Spoelstra receives painting no one would want to display

It’s a portrait of Spoelstra and his bosses.

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Erik Spoelstra receives odd painting while Heat are in the Bahamas

A Bahamian artist painted a strange portrait of Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra along with president Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison.

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Erik Spoelstra says his time with Miami Heat has gone fast

Spoelstra said the organization has come together to help the team win

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Erik Spoelstra’s Extension Again Shows How, for Miami Heat, Continuity Counts

Erik Spoelstra should have been gone.

That’s what some in the national media argued.

That’s what some websitessuch as the infamous FireSpo.comscreamed.

Spoelstra could have been gone.

That’s what even he has told associates, as he’s reflected on three pressure points in his tenure as Miami Heat coach: the summer of 2010, when the Heat were aggressively recruiting free agents; the second month of the 2010-11 season, when they started 9-8; and the summer of 2011, after they fell flat in the final three games of the NBA Finals.

But that’s not how the Heat have operated under owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley, a period that extends back to 1994 and has seen so many of the same people stick around, even if they’re now stuck with several more pounds and a few more silver strands.

They backed Spoelstra in ways that other organizations wouldn’t have, and he has rewarded their faith with two championships. Now, they have finalized what seemed a foregone conclusion, announcing Sunday an extension that will keep Spoelstra from becoming the NBA’s hottest coaching free agent after this season.

The Heat, as is their custom, refrained from offering numerical specifics, in terms of years and salary. But they don’t really matter, any more than it’s mattered that Riley has tended to conceal his own contractual details.

What matters is that Spoelstra knows he can continue to shape the team without concern for his future status. What matters is that the Heat’s prominent potential free agentsincluding LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Boshknow that he’s in charge, not just this season, but into the future, beyond their upcoming opportunities to opt out of their contract.

While James, Wade and Bosh have all each had some bumpy moments with Spoelstra, they’ve all also experienced a payoff, and Spoelstra’s presence at James’ wedding was another sign of the evolution of their relationship.

As training camp opens this week, don’t expect Spoelstra to enjoy discussing this subject, if he addresses it at all. It’s not his style. While he has become increasingly confident in what he offers, he has also downplayed his role, laughing off situations in which others still confuse Riley for the team’s coach and stating simply, “My job is to land the plane.”

Now, he’ll have that job at least two more seasons. If Gregg Popovich retires during that time, Spoelstra will become the current longest-tenured coach with a single team.

It all calls to mind something Spoelstra often said, if not for the cameras, during that turbulent first season with the so-called “Big Three.” He said that he could keep everything in perspective by reminding himself that in 25 years he’d be able to say he coached this team. These all-time great players.

He’ll still be able to do so.

And chances are, he’ll still be standing on the Heat sideline when he says it.

Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.

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