Wednesday, September 29, 2010

B/R Article: Will Spo Win Coach of the Year and Earn Riley's Trust?

Original article can be found at:

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.

Pat Riley runs the Heat franchise and has made it very clear that, as team president, he will always do what is best for the team.

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.

Downright scary.

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.


  1. I am coming through with my daily articles, and posting them on B/R... we need more content and more comments in order to make the community pop off.

    We will get there.

  2. Over 600 reads on Bleacher Report coming from the 3 articles. Interesting experiment.


    My slide show breaking down Lakers vs. Heat is on the Heat front page and the NBA home page at B/R.

    Should be fun... didn't link that article here, but I am sure some Laker fans will have some colorful things to say. It is so funny to see people are tweeting my article.