A supportive approach
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.”
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.