Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Who is Erik Spoelstra?
He is the guy with both the easiest and the hardest job in the NBA.
His job is to push the Miami Heat to an NBA title this season, the year after that one, and the next one for good measure in order to establish job security.
So far, Riley has decided to go with Spoelstra much in the same way that he kept Stan Van Gundy in charge when Shaq strolled into town.
We all remember how that chapter ended.
Van Gundy failed to win a title in his first year and less than a third of the way into his second season with a title contender, he was axed and replaced by the Hall of Fame coach who presided over him.
Miami went on to win its only NBA title that season, before their championship window closed as Dwyane Wade dealt with multiple injuries and Shaquille O'Neal asked to be dealt after realizing he played with Chris Quinn and Ricky Davis.
An embarrassing 15-win season resulted and Riley stepped down again, giving Erik Spoelstra the job.
In two seasons, the former Heat video coordinator has produced mixed reviews.
He has been praised for getting his players to hustle, and accused of being unimaginative on offense. He is respected for guiding them to the playoffs, and blamed for their disappointing first round exits. He is complemented for being a player's coach, unlike Riley, while also viewed as a Riley puppet.
Last year, the 39-year-old coach kept the Heat competitive against the best, but buzzer beaters by Kobe Bryant, Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce got him strategically second guessed over and over.
Coach Spo's rotation was also a topic of debate. Many teams licked their chops waiting to pounce on Miami's offensively challenged second unit. Dwyane Wade was routinely forced into hero mode against the most modest of opponents.
The most overly scrutinized part of his rotation was his decision to start Michael Beasley and close the games with Udonis Haslem. Miami's second leading scorer was routinely left on the bench with the game in the balance, because the coach viewed him as erratic offensively and not fundamentally sound on defense.
This unavoidable fiasco divided the fan base as both players were incapable of playing out of position.
Wade's preference was for Haslem to be on the court with him with the games on the line. In many cases, he was right, as UD earned the nickname Captain Clutch with his late game heroics. Yet on other nights, when coach was forced to play Beasley, his brilliance rescued the team from defeat.
Like the day that Beasley dunked home a game-winning slam off of a Wade airball before the buzzer.
In retrospect, Coach Spoelstra got more right than he got wrong, because his methods resulted in his receiving Coach of the Month honors in March as the Heat went 12-3 and torpedoed their way all the way up to a number five seed in the East and a first round date with the Boston Celtics.
On second thought, that was his worst decision ever.
The Miami Heat controlled their destiny with a 46-35 record heading into the final game against the 12-69 New Jersey Nets. A win would earn them the fifth spot against Boston, while a loss would have secured a rematch with the Atlanta Hawks, who Miami battled to seven games just the year before.
Coach Spoelstra refused to tank the game suggesting he did not want to upset the basketball gods.
Miami was then steam rolled by the eventual Eastern Conference champion.
At the time I argued that the Boston Celtics were to be more feared than any mythical "basketball gods" that may or may not exist.
And the LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach..
The coach that I have mocked for preaching about "The Energy Bus", a best selling book about positive psychology, now has me in the driver's seat of his Coach of the Year campaign.
In his first day of training camp, he split up his superstars and had them lead four man teams in defensive battles where one point was assigned per defensive stop.
People are going to continue to be divided on Coach Spoelstra, but count me amongst the believers.
I know it sounds really simplistic, arrogant, and even ignorant when he says that the offense will take care of itself, but he has a point.
It will be very hard for anybody to hold Miami under 100 points.
The only way to dethrone both the Lakers and Celtics is to outperform them on the defensive end and Coach Spoelstra has his team pushing for championship level intensity already. His team seems energized and motivated to land the top seed throughout the playoffs and maybe even challenge for the all-time record of 72 wins, set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.
The defensive tenacity that Spoelstra instilled into last season's was nothing short of impressive.
A team that was admittedly not very high on talent was second in the NBA in points against, second in opponent field goal percentage, fourth in opponent three point percentage and even out rebounded their opposition in spite of being undersized.
Imagine superstars like Chris Bosh and LeBron James buying into the system.
That is what makes him the overwhelming Coach of the Year favorite.
However, his job security will fall 100 percent on his ability to deliver a championship.
Statistical analysis has Miami at around 35 percent odds of taking home the trophy, but I suspect Pat Riley expects to win now. If Stan Van Gundy was given the axe for failing to deliver a title with Shaq and Dwyane, imagine the amount of pressure that Spoelstra feels with this group.
Those odds point to a 65 percent chance that Erik Spoelstra will fail to bring home the title.
Boston and Los Angeles have intimidating, playoff tested rosters coupled with amazing coaches. Doc Rivers or Phil Jackson could easily outfox Spoelstra in the playoffs, but a playoff exit to any other opponent would be the ultimate kiss of death.
Yes, Erik Spoelstra may win a regular season award, but he has higher odds of getting canned.
In fact, Pat Riley may already be itching for the job.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
It had been assumed that Erick Dampier was a match made in heaven. Miami had a questionable center rotation and he would have been an immediate upgrade. Plus he was willing to play for league minimum.
Why did Pat Riley and the Miami Heat pass?
They clearly value their money and current roster more than most analysts and fans. Is it the right call?
Ten reasons why I don't think they will regret it:
1) Joel Anthony is one of the league's best shot blockers. He averaged 1.4 blocks in just 16.5 minutes per game last season. That projects to around three blocks per game if given starters minutes.
Miami had a 13-3 record during Joel's 16 starts last season.
While he is still raw in many aspects of the game, he sets excellent, crushing screens and keeps balls alive on the offensive glass.
He is not an excellent on the boards and still struggles catching the ball cleanly, but his intangibles have earned him a five-year, $18 million extension.
He could be the starting center for years to come if he can maintain last year's winning ways—it projects to 67 wins over the course of a season, by the way.
2) Zydrunas Ilgauskas was one of the first veterans to jump on board and sign a minimum contract. He has had an amazing career. Yes, he had a down year last year, averaging 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action per game, but was contributing 12.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in 27 minutes of action the year before Shaquille O'Neal was acquired.
That's a higher combination of points and rebounds than Dampier ever delivered for Dallas.
The perception may be that Ilgauskas is a dinosaur, but he is in fact just one month Dampier's senior. LeBron still believes he has something left in the tank and they have great chemistry together. I wouldn't be so sure that Ilgauskas will not have a better season than Erick Dampier.
3) Jamaal Magloire was actually an All-Star in 2003-04, thanks to a weakened class of centers in the Eastern Conference, the last year either player averaged a double-double.
Nowadays, it is pretty widely accepted that Dampier is a more reliable option.
The 32-year-old Heat center now has three advantages over Mr. Dampier. He is three years younger, has already accepted a bench role, and is the resident bad boy on the roster.
When the Heat and Celtics got into an altercation during last year's playoffs, Magloire was the intimidating presence that seemingly made Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett reconsider whether they should exchange blows with Miami players.
Stan Van Gundy said it best "Jamaal Magloire has a role and that role is to beat the hell out of people."
He is not going anywhere.
4) Dexter Pittman was picked by my Miami at the top of the second round ahead of potential lottery picks like Solomon Alabi and Hassan Whiteside.
When Riley says that he likes Dexter, you have to believe him, because he had a chance to draft either of the bigs that had lottery potential and passed in favor of the big man out of Texas.
By all accounts, he is not yet in optimal basketball shape. He had his ups and downs during summer league play, but that was to be expected from the prospect who once weighed over 400 pounds.
Losing weight is not new to him, because he was in a program at UT that helped shed around 100 pounds off of his frame. He has already passed his off-season conditioning test from Riley and company, which means he is progressing nicely.
He is one of the precious few, skilled big men to come into the league in recent years. Miami sees a lot of promise in him.
5) Chris Bosh is a natural power forward and would seem to be too skinny to play against many centers around the league.
Miami is likely going to ask him to bulk up into Pau Gasol range and ask him to cover both power positions in order for him to take that next step into greatness.
Yes, Los Angeles has a great young center in Andrew Bynum, but they have been able to participate in three straight NBA Finals thanks to Pau's ability to man both positions.
Expect Bosh to play the Gasol role in Miami if the other centers are not earning their minutes.
6) Udonis Haslem is not a center, he still impacts the center rotation because Coach Spoelstra will want to see last year's co-captain on the court for about 28 minutes a game.
Assuming Chris Bosh plays 36 minutes per game, it would push him to 16 minutes at the center position.
These numbers will fluctuate and it is possible that Udonis will have to settle for less minutes, but it gives you a pretty good idea that Miami has a pretty deep talent pool to fill the 96 minutes in their power rotation.
7) Juwan Howard surprised the few who watched the Portland Trailblazers play last season.
His averages of 6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes of game action are really solid for a 37-year-old, but I was more impressed by the fact that he played in 73 regular season games.
Dampier provides a lot more muscle and defense than Howard ever could, but Juwan's versatility and willingness to ride the pine make him another great glue guy that could not be sacrificed.
8) Da'Sean Butler, Miami's other second round hopeful, is not in the power rotation but could have influenced the decision making process.
Assuming Miami did not cut any of their top seven guys in the power rotation, he would have been a likely candidate to get the boot.
Many draft experts had this swingman as a lottery pick before he tore ligaments in his knee. He is not expected back in time to compete for his roster spot, but with Miami giving away multiple first round draft picks to Toronto and Cleveland in the sign and trade deals that brought Chris Bosh and LeBron James to Miami at a serious discount.
9) Patrick Beverley, last year's first of two second rounders, was another possible casualty if another big man were brought in.
With point guards like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, and Jameer Nelson to contend with in the Eastern Conference playoffs, perhaps a defensive minded point guard is of more consequence than a slight upgrade at the center position.
Last year, Beverley filled the role of defensive stopper off the bench for Olympiakos. In the European league final against FC Barcelona, he blanketed Ricky Rubio and forced him into consecutive turnovers that forced the Spanish phenom to the bench.
His offensive game is not refined enough at this point for him to be thrust into an NBA rotation, but he could be a good situational play and has plenty of upside.
10) The buyout season promises to be fruitful with Miami poised to make a serious run at a championship behind the new trio of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade you figure there will not be a shortage of players looking to fill in any spots that may need to be shored up.
The Heat can enter the season with the guys it currently has and then focus on upgrades of this sort after the trade market closes in February.
Many teams will be in rebuilding mode by then and accommodate a buyout for a serviceable veteran. This happens every year. As long as a player is not on another roster by March, he is eligible for the playoff roster.
Most would agree that Miami has more than enough to win 60-plus games in the regular season. The challenge is to construct a roster that wins 16 playoff games—and becomes NBA champion.
And for that, Miami is better off not tinkering with the roster until a significant upgrade becomes available.
He is not.
LBJ had other options where he could have won a title, two titles, maybe three titles, but this was the place where he could dream of "not six, not seven..."
That is what he wanted.
That is why he joined D-Wade. Neither of them has to change their game, because they are both great all around players who just have to take turns doing the things they like to do.
The last shot is going to be overly scrutinized and could be a point of contention if LBJ does not get his fair share of buzzer beating opportunities... Wade will probably take more of them, but James will want some of the glory too.
Of course, plenty of other players will get game winning opportunities. Chris Bosh, Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem also took paycuts in order to make history.
This is their team.
Miami fans should not punish LeBron for deciding on Miami. He could grow very unhappy if Miami fans cling to Wade as their knight and shining armor.
It is OK to like one superstar more than the other, but Heat fans need to make sure all three of their megastars get the love they deserve.
When I hear Miami fans say things like "LeBron James will carry us in the regular season and Dwyane Wade will carry us in the playoffs" I get concerned that Heat fans are still holding onto some of the bitterness of the Dwyane/LeBron rivalry.
The team may win multiple titles in the following years, but the relationship between LeBron and his new fan base could impact "The Decision 2", currently scheduled for the summer of 2014, when he has an opt out clause.
Monday, September 27, 2010
It was uncomfortable watching LeBron James on one side, Chris Bosh on the other with Dwyane Wade in the middle.