Miami Heat making progress, but season remains all about development of four young players

 

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra admitted there was extra enjoyment in Miami's wins at Denver and Utah. (AP Photo)

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra admitted there was extra enjoyment in Miami’s wins at Denver and Utah. (AP Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. – The Miami Heat just dropped another close game at home when Erik Spoelstra, in his customary tie-removed and collar-open postgame look, stepped to the podium.

Spoelstra appeared relaxed, as he has after most games this season, despite his team’s continued struggles at home. He praised the opponent (Memphis) and then quickly emphasized his team’s effort against another playoff-quality team.

The Heat were keeping it close and a breakthrough was coming. … and Spoelstra could sense it.

Spoelstra has not had much experience having to look past the won-loss record in nine seasons as a head coach, not with just one losing season on his head coaching resume. But this season is different for the 46-year-old veteran coach.

The season will be frustrating and satisfying. There will be puzzling stretches like the uneven play at home to start the season, and then the inspiring play we recently saw on consecutive nights against Western Conference opponents to start this three-game trip that concluded late Saturday in Portland.

But Spoelstra’s message to his team has been to ignore the inconsistencies and focus on the day-to-day progress that, considering the Heat already have lost 47 games to injuries (not including Chris Bosh’s situation), has been encouraging.

“We talk all the time, we’re a process oriented team,” Spoelstra stresses. “Often times in today’s society people don’t want to hear that. It’s a result-based society and league. Everything is based on how we can improve, get better, make progress and focus on the now and this group has absolutely embraced that. Even when we lost four, five, six in a row, the next day you could not read it with their body language or their approach or their work.

“If you have a group like that you know you’ll get better.”

And when the progress does manifest itself into a win or two, especially on the road, that satisfaction is that much sweeter.

Which is what happened on this trip when Miami walked out of Denver and Utah with two victories, the latter the more impressive considering the quality of opponent and the in-game adversity – Luke Babbitt injured his hip in the first quarter leaving Miami with nine healthy players – the team faced.

Still, the Heat held off a charging Jazz team that was so stunned it found any excuse for the loss, including questioning two non-calls at the end of the game that ultimately the NBA determined did not affect the outcome.

“To be able to get those two wins on the road you do acknowledge it and enjoy it in a different way,” Spoelstra said.

But this season is about one thing: The development of four young players who the Heat believe can be a part of their future.

More than anything, the maturation of Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, Jason Richardson and Tyler Johnson may be the most important aspect of this season. Whatever moves the Heat make, whether it’s trading Goran Dragic and/or Dion Waiters for younger player or to shed salary, it will be the idea of adding to those four foundational players.

“We knew we had a really exciting talented core,” Spoelstra said. “Now, a lot of the core is young but that also brings great hope and optimism for the future. But also the young guys are right-now players.”

That’s not to say the moves made last summer, when the Heat admitted they were in full-blown rebuild mode, could not be beneficial down the line. Role players like James Johnson and Wayne Ellington are emerging as possible chips.

“We got a young group of guys,” 13-year veteran Udonis Haslem said. “It’s important to keep a positive attitude and to send a positive message. That’s what (Spoelstra) is doing.

“We’re right there.”

[Looking for hope for Miami Heat season, check out 2003-04 comparison]

[Miami Heat forward James Johnson thriving because he’s not ‘in a box’]

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