Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra may be a top-ten coach in the NBA but that says a lot more about the lousy coaches in the league today than it does about his overall coaching skills.
By my count there are at least nine coaches in the league better than Spoelstra and one of them, Orlando Magic head coach and former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, will receive his walking papers any day now.
But I digress. This isn’t a contest or a ranking; this is an assessment of Spoelstra’s individual coaching skills which aren’t great. If he continues to hone his craft though, they should get much better.
In the meanwhile here are the three reasons why the Heat won’t win a title under Spoelstra:
- No true pecking order. When the Heat won the championship back in 2006, the idea was to let Shaquille O’Neal be the center piece and Dwyane Wade would be the second option. O’Neal struggled that year with his game and injuries so Pat Riley put the team in Wade’s capable hands and you know the result. LeBron James and Wade have pretty similar games and Spoelstra has been reluctant to establish a clear pecking order as to who is the man. They both do their best not to step on each other’s toes when they are on the floor together but James has been the team’s iron man and most consistent player this season. He should be the clear number one option but the Heat still struggle when it’s time to decide who to give the ball to.
- Lack of defined roles. Joel Anthony is a very limited player but the Heat don’t have a lot of options in the post. Still, Anthony has started at center for most of the past two seasons despite the fact that his play didn’t warrant him getting so many starts. He rarely scores and has averaged less than four rebounds all five seasons he has been in the league. That's not enough rebounding for a guy who gives you virtually no production on the offensive end. Sadly, Anthony is not the only role player who has struggled to find his place on this team which may explain why guys like Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, Shane Battier, James Jones and Ronny Turiaf have played so poorly this season.
The Heat need better scoring off the bench. The best teams in the league have a dangerous sixth-man who either helps them preserve leads or can help bring them out of a deficit while the starters rest. Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder’s James Harden and San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili could easily be starters but they come off the bench to be the main scoring option for their team’s second unit. Meanwhile, the Heat have to play their starters unbelievably high minutes because they don’t get consistent production out of their bench. Spoelstra could bring either Wade or James off the bench to make sure they get consistent scoring throughout the game instead of playing them together so much. A move like that would also allow Chris Bosh to produce more.
There is good news for Spoelstra though; most coaches do better in their second stint as a head coach. Van Gundy has done a much better job with the Orlando Magic than he did with Miami, while Doc Rivers is much better coaching the Boston Celtics than he ever was coaching the Magic.
Rick Carlisle who’s Mavericks beat Spoelstra’s Heat for the title last year was also in his second stint as a coach. It seems that once a guy gets a chance to get away from the game and assess their own job performance, they tend to do better the second time around.
And that may be the case with Spoelstra also. He has the makings of a great coach which is probably why Pat Riley gave him a four-year extension before the season started.
This team may not stay together long enough for him to figure things out though so either the big three of James, Wade and Bosh will be broken up or Spoelstra may be looking for another job before those three can invoke the Early-Termination Option on their contracts which will be after next season.
That pretty much guarantees that Spoelstra will be a goner soon. Sorry Spoelstra, maybe next time.
Roosevelt Hall is an NFL Blogger for The Sport Mentalist and an NBA Blogger for The Sport Mentalist 2. He is also a Sports Reporter for Pro Sports Lives. He can be contacted at RHall_TPFB@Yahoo.com and be sure to follow him on Twitter @sportmentalist.