Erik Spoelstra discusses the end of Heat’s Big Three era: ‘I look at that team with so much respect and joy’

SALT LAKE CITY — Even with all of the negativity surrounding the end of the Heat’s Big Three era, coach Erik Spoelstra can look back and remember the good times.

“I look at that team with so much respect and joy,” Spoelstra said in advance of Friday’s game against the Jazz, the fifth stop on Miami’s six-game trip. “It’s a chapter out of all of our lives that will always be there. Nobody can ever take it away from us. It is not easy to do what that team did and I think eventually everybody will be able to look back on that in such high regard and celebrate really what we were able to accomplish together.”

This comes a day after Sports Illustrated released a Q&A with Ray Allen that included some harsh words when it came to the Heat. Allen said the organization and coaching staff “didn’t adjust” to having older players on the team during the 2013-14 season that ended with a Finals loss to the Spurs.

“With a team as old as we were, and with as much basketball as we’d played, we were still doing a million appearances, we still were having all the practices, and doing all the things that typically wear you down by the end of the year,” Allen said to Sports Illustrated. “Just being on your feet so much. The team didn’t learn how to manage our bodies better. When your players have played in June the last three or four years, by this time you have to figure out how to get people off their feet. We don’t need to have a practice. We don’t need to have a shootaround. We just have to be mental. From those aspects, you wear yourself down long term.”

A Heat spokesman said the Heat actually worked with Allen and other veteran players on the 2013-14 roster throughout that season to cut down on appearances, and after January the number of shootarounds and practices between games were limited in an effort to help players get more rest.

Miami Heat guard Ray Allen (34) is calmed down by Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem (40) after a hard foul in the fourth quarter of the Eastern Conference NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on May 26, 2014. (Richard Graulich The Palm Beach Post)

Recently, Dwyane Wade compared what the Heat went through in the 2013-14 season to what Cleveland is experiencing this year.

“As a team we were kind of like this,” Wade told reporters in Cleveland. “It was worse because it wasn’t new guys. It was guys who had been around each other four years in a row. Your jokes weren’t funny anymore to other guys. When you walked in, it wasn’t a big smile no more. Guys were just over you.

“It’s like being in a bad marriage. But we somehow made it to the Finals.”

When asked about Allen’s comments, Heat forward Udonis Haslem said he didn’t feel like the organization mishandled that 2013-14 team.

“Everybody got their own opinion. I didn’t really see it that way,” said Haslem, who is the only remaining player from the Big Three Era on the Heat’s current roster. “But Ray is entitled to his opinion.

“I feel like whatever. I don’t care, man. It was an amazing four years for me, some of the best four years of my life, some of the best basketball I ever played. And I was thankful for it.”

Despite the negative memories Allen and Wade have brought up, Spoelstra remains positive.

“When I go down Championship Alley and I look at the photos, it brings me back to a place that I have so many fond memories,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t stay there, though. I don’t stay in that place. I’m fully invested in this group. It is a different Heat chapter right now and I love this team. I love the challenge that we have with group. I’m able to occasionally bring stories from that run that may be applicable to this group – a young team with big aspirations. But that’s about it.”

When asked if he has any regrets about how he handed the final season of the Big Three era, Spoelstra didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“C’mon. You know me,” he said. “Whatever anybody can say, I’ve gone through. My entire process is I normally beat myself up and would of, could of, should of done a million things differently. I hope that’s what helps me as a coach. I’ve changed and evolved quite a bit since that championship run with that group. A lot of those years helped me evolve, but a lot of what I’ve experienced as a coach in the last three years has really helped me evolve.

“We lost three straight Hall of Famers in three consecutive years and we take great pride that we’re able to evolve and keep on moving forward with a new group. And I hope, how many years has it been? Four years. So four or five years from now, I hope I’m a vastly improved coach again. If I’m not, then I’ll be in trouble.”

Haslem feels some regret, too.

“That was a great four years man,” Haslem said. “I learned a lot. I had a lot of success. I wish as a group we would have really embraced that moment more because it was a beautiful moment. A lot of teams don’t have that kind of success and toward the end we forgot to enjoy it. It had nothing to do with all that stuff. We just forgot to enjoy the ride.”

All of this puts into perspective just how tough it is to accomplish what the Heat did by advancing to the Finals in four consecutive seasons.

“It is tough,” Spoelstra said. “Look at any pro sports organization. It’s tough to sustain success at that level. That’s why we respect that process so much. We’ve been together now for 23 years, we’ve been to the Finals five times. But we’ve had aspirations every single year to compete for an NBA championship. And that’s the constant carrot that always motivates everybody in the organization.

“It starts with Micky [Arison] and Pat [Riley]. They’re the driving forces behind that vision and we’ve had to reinvent ourselves many times and we’re in the process of doing that again right now. But this team has big aspirations, too, so my focus is on them. I’m able to go back and look at [the Big Three era] very fondly. I love all the guys. We went through those battles together.”

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