A sup­port­ive ap­proach

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - Ira Win­der­man iwin­der­[email protected] sun­sen­tinel.com. Fol­low him at twit­ter.com/ira­heat­beat or face­book.com/ ira.win­der­man

Heat coach Erik Spoel­stra, right, says he is com­fort­able work­ing along­side Pat Ri­ley on Heat per­son­nel.

MI­AMI — What mat­ters, Erik Spoel­stra says, is that he is in the room. Run of the room? Not in his think­ing at the mo­ment.

At a time when NBA coach as per­son­nel leader has proven per­ilous and al­most ex­tinct, Spoel­stra, to a de­gree, al­ready stands with the Mi­ami Heat close to where Doc Rivers, Stan Van Gundy and Tom Thi­bodeau re­cently stood -per­son­nel voice as well as coach­ing voice.

But with Rivers shifted back by the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers to sole re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as coach, Van Gundy re­placed by the De­troit Pis­tons with a more tra­di­tional coac­hand-ex­ec­u­tive align­ment, and now Thi­bodeau re­lieved of his coach­ing and per­son­nel du­ties with the Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves, Spoel­stra is in a unique po­si­tion as a re­spected coach work­ing along­side a 73-year-old ex­ec­u­tive main­stay.

It has led, amid Thi­bodeau’s re­cent dis­missal, to spec­u­la­tion that Spoel­stra even­tu­ally could emerge as the NBA’s next dual threat, as Pat Ri­ley closes in on a quar­ter cen­tury with the fran­chise.

But as the NBA ap­pears to be walk­ing back such du­al­ity, Spoel­stra said he finds him­self walk­ing back, as well.

The key, he said, is hav­ing a voice that as­sures con­ti­nu­ity, as op­posed to a seat on the bench and a suite in the ex­ec­u­tive wing, where Micky Ari­son’s pri­mary con­duits are Ri­ley, CEO Nick Ari­son and Gen­eral Man­ager Andy Elis­burg.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing,” Spoel­stra said as he stood against a wall on the Heat prac­tice court at Amer­i­canAir­lines Arena, “as I’ve gained more ex­pe­ri­ence and per­spec­tive in this league and be­ing a head coach, I care about that and want that less than I used to. And what’s ironic about that is I’m in­volved, at least in the room, all the time.

“But there’s enough from this po­si­tion to keep you busy and keep you up all night by it­self. That’s why I’m ex­tremely grate­ful to work for Pat and Micky and Andy, be­cause it’s in­clu­sive lead­er­ship. We all trust each other. We’ve all been through so much to­gether. That just makes the com­mu­ni­ca­tion so much more nor­mal.”

That doesn’t mean Spoel­stra hasn’t been an in­flu­encer or fa­cil­i­ta­tor. He was the one who courted Greg Oden at an In­di­anapo­lis Chili’s, was on the phone im­me­di­ately with Kelly Olynyk shortly after Gor­don Hay­ward said no to the Heat, has hung back from sum­mer leagues for the start of free- agency pe­ri­ods.

In other words, he al­ready is in the per­son­nel game, if not nec­es­sar­ily the one de­liv­er­ing the fi­nal pitch to a de­part­ing LeBron James.

“We’re pretty much on the same page about vir­tu­ally all of it,” he said. “And, like I said, the last sev­eral years I’ve just fo­cused even more at this time on coach­ing. Let me know what I need to know. I’ve got enough on my plate and I’m go­ing to han­dle this box. I’m not even think­ing about that as much.”

As for the draft, the Heat have a sep­a­rate wing, with Adam Si­mon, Keith Askins and, still, Chet Kam­merer in­volved in that search.

“We all work to­gether a ton,” Spoel­stra said. “I’m def­i­nitely not in­volved to the point of mak­ing any kind of de­ci­sion. But a lot of re­ally tal­ented peo­ple spend a full year on that. It would be ir­re­spon­si­ble for me to be in­volved in heavy de­ci­sion mak­ing there.”

Even­tu­ally, though, there will be a Heat de­ci­sion about ul­ti­mate per­son­nel au­thor­ity. Ri­ley’s Mal­ibu home cer­tainly not built to re­main va­cant.

“You know what? I don’t even want to think about that day, when Pat’s not here. I re­ally don’t,” Spoel­stra said. “I don’t want to go there. I en­joy the way the setup is right now. And it’s ob­vi­ously ex­tremely unique in pro sports, the type of setup that we have and the con­ti­nu­ity and the loy­alty. We’ll deal with that when­ever.”

Al­ready a part of it has been dealt with.

“Be­ing in the room,” Spoel­stra said, “is enough for me.”

In the lane

Wade watch: Over­looked in Kobe Bryant mak­ing the All-Star Game in his 20th and fi­nal NBA sea­son is he was se­lected as a starter in a pop­u­lar­ity con­test, fan bal­lot­ing, by an over­whelm­ing mar­gin. It there­fore did not leave coaches in po­si­tion to weigh the mer­its of his .345 shoot­ing per­cent­age at the time in 2016, nor his other nom­i­nal sta­tis­tics. For Dwyane Wade, the equa­tion is a bit dif­fer­ent in his 16th and fi­nal NBA sea­son, with the fan vote now count­ing only 50 per­cent in the starter se­lec­tion process (with 25-per­cent in­put from both me­dia and play­ers). Where it would get in­ter­est­ing is if the East­ern Con­fer­ence coaches who select the seven re­serves have to get in­volved re­gard­ing a player who is tied for 81st in the league in scor­ing with Em­manuel Mu­diay and is rated 131 in to­tal Player Ef­fi­ciency Rank­ing. A min­i­mum of four back­court play­ers must be se­lected to the East ros­ter, a max­i­mum of six. The locks at guard should be Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker (who could get bumped out of a start­ing spot by Wade, based on cur­rent fan bal­lot­ing). Cer­tainly also de­serv­ing of East back­court spots are Bradley Beal, Vic­tor Oladipo and Kyle Lowry. So there could be a spot there for Wade, based on views of Ben Sim­mons. It helps that the only seem­ing locks in the front­court in the East are Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo, Kawhi Leonard, Joel Em­biid, and per­haps Blake Grif­fin.

Next step: At Amer­i­canAir­lines Arena to call Thurs­day’s Heat vic­tory over Celtics, Kevin McHale said it is safe to as­sume Pat Ri­ley is con­tin­u­ing to at­tempt to shake things up, even with the Heat lim­ited with trade­able as­sets and draft picks. “You prob­a­bly would like to have a lit­tle bit more flex­i­bil­ity to change the team up,” said McHale, who spent a decade in the Tim­ber­wolves’ front of­fice. “But then again, Pat’s on the phone ev­ery sin­gle day and you’d be sur­prised that a team might be look­ing to change di­rec­tion and you might be able to get that piece, that guy you can build around. Pat knows. I think even­tu­ally you may not say it to the me­dia, but you know where you’re at. You see all the other teams. You’re pretty re­al­is­tic.”

Court date: It is not un­usual to see Heat play­ers get­ting up shots on the prac­tice court at Amer­i­canAir­lines Arena fol­low­ing games, whether it’s Kelly Olynyk after lim­it­ing play­ing time or Hassan White­side when the free throws have been off. Thurs­day night, though, was dif­fer­ent, with Celtics guard Kyrie Irving tak­ing the court after his 2-of-8 sec­ond half. “I just want to feel good about my jump shot,” he said, with the Celtics re­main­ing in South Flor­ida overnight. “Just good to get some shots up, relieve some stress a lit­tle bit. And after a tough loss on a back-to-back, it’s just good to see the shot go in a lit­tle bit. It’s just ther­a­peu­tic.”

Added praise: With David Fiz­dale vis­it­ing with his Knicks, Golden State coach Steve Kerr re­vealed be­fore his team’s blowout vic­tory that the for­mer Heat as­sis­tant coach spent time with the War­riors dur­ing last sea­son’s play­off prepa­ra­tions. “In tele­vi­sion, I knew him, also,” said Kerr, the for­mer TNT an­a­lyst. “From all the Mi­ami games, we got to know each other. I loved Fiz and Erik Spoel­stra. I thought they were so good. I loved their ap­proach to the job, loved their in­ten­sity, in­tel­li­gence and hu­mil­ity at the same time. It’s a re­ally good com­bi­na­tion.” Of the ex­pe­ri­ence, Fiz­dale told re­porters, “It re­minds me of a cham­pi­onship en­vi­ron­ment I hadn’t seen since [Mi­ami]. They were gear­ing up for a long run and it was cool they let me in on it.”

Big num­ber

Times over their 31 sea­sons that a Heat op­po­nent did not at­tempt a free throw in the first half, in­clud­ing Thurs­day by the Celtics. The com­bined two foul shots in the first half (1 of 2 by Jus­tise Winslow) were the fewest in a first half in the NBA this sea­son.

Ira Win­der­man


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