BOSTON — Don’t mention the word “rebuild” to Erik Spoelstra.
“I don’t use the word rebuild. We’re developing this team,” Spoelstra said Friday night. “Look, it’s easy for me to step back and have perspective.”
Even in the middle of a 10-24 start to the season – the Heat’s worst start in nine seasons under Spoelstra – he knows there’s a bigger picture with the calendar turning to 2017.
That’s even with the Heat tied for the third-worst record in the NBA. That’s even with Miami in the middle of a rough stretch that includes seven consecutive road losses, and a challenging six-game West Coast trip looming.
“This is my 22nd year with the Heat. We’ve been to the Finals five times and won three championships,” Spoelstra said. “So what about all those other years? There’s a lot of other years that you’re not winning it or you’re not the last team or where you want to be. So, whatever word you want to use, we’ve had to do it before several times — retool, rebuild — and we’ve done it quicker than most. That’s because of the commitment to developing and building these standards.”
It’s a message that’s gotten across to a lot of the Heat’s players this season. Even the young core made up of 20-year-old Justise Winslow, 23-year-old Josh Richardson, 24-year-old Tyler Johnson and 27-year-old Hassan Whiteside are starting to take their coach’s approach.
“You’ve got to keep it in perspective,” Richardson said. “We want to win. We’re all disappointed that we’re losing, but in the big scheme of things we’re just trying to get better and we know in time it will start translating into wins. So, we’re just trying to be patient. It’s hard when you’re losing. We’ve just got to stay patient with it.”
But it can get frustrating at times, especially with the way Miami is losing games.
The Heat have played in the second-most clutch games — defined by the NBA as a game that has a margin of five points or fewer inside the final five minutes of the fourth quarter — this season. But Miami has lost a lot of those close games, as it holds a 7-15 record in clutch situations.
The Heat have finished with a winning record in clutch games in each of the past six seasons, recording a combined 144-93 record in clutch situations over that stretch. But without a Dwyane Wade, LeBron James or Chris Bosh to turn to this season, Miami has found it tougher to execute late in games.
“I think we’re just a couple steps away from getting over the hump where we win close games,” Heat forward James Johnson said. “We’ve won one or two in close game situations. We’ve battled back. Now we’ve just got to learn to sustain the lead or step on people’s neck and go up by 20.”
Miami is the worst team in the NBA in terms of plus/minus in clutch situations. The Heat have been outscored by 45 points in those situations this season, but Spoelstra believes that’s all just part of the growing pains his young roster must go through.
Just take a look at the Heat’s last two games – road losses against the Hornets on Thursday and Celtics on Friday. The Heat held second-half leads in each of those games before both teams used big runs to take control late.
“It’s one that we all have to step back,” Spoelstra said after Friday’s loss in Boston. “It’s nearly impossible to do in this league when it’s a result based league, but we’re a process-oriented team and organization. In 48 hours, we took steps forward. There’s no question about it. In terms of learning what winning plays are and then how do you make winning plays and then how do you hold your teammate accountable to making winning plays, and you see guys giving more into the team and really trying to make those plays.
“It’s painful in our locker room. But we’ve said it before, experience is the best teacher and we’re getting that experience right now.”
That pain is hard to ignore at times, though.
“It’s hard to say that there are good things when you’re losing,” Goran Dragic said. “But as a competitor and as a professional athlete, we need to look at it that way. If you get lost in the losing then it takes your heart and takes your soul.”
The Heat are hoping that pain turns into wins soon.
Until then, Spoelstra doesn’t look at it as a rebuild. This is part of “developing this team.”
“It’s a competitive league and everybody wants to be that last team,” Spoelstra said. “But who has a coherent plan? Who’s committed to that plan? Who’s disciplined to that plan when there’s a lot of noise and you’re not necessarily getting the results that you want? We’re able to see great promise, hope and progress with this team. And if you know anything about our organization, we have a plan.”