Everything Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had to say on exit interview day: ‘We see progress, we see growth. Expectations do not scare us’

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra directs his team in the first quarter of play against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

MIAMI — After Heat players and coaches met for the final time as a group Friday, head coach Erik Spoelstra spoke to the media before heading into the offseason. Here’s what Spoelstra had to say …

* On this season’s Heat team: “I love this team. I love the journey this team has been on for the last 20 months and the guys that we’ve added new, inherited the experiences we had last year. But it’s been well documented since our 11-30 start two years ago that we’ve basically been playing .600 basketball. The most important thing for this group was to get in to have this experience and that’s why we wanted it so much to have that experience last year. It didn’t happen that way. A lot of times in this league things don’t happen in your terms. But it was so important for our guys to go through all the experiences we went to get in, to fight for it, to earn it and then to experience how difficult and challenging it is in the playoffs.”

* On progress made during the season: “Our guys really grew from all these experiences. It was a group that grew. That’s ultimately what you want. You want see progress. You want to see guys connecting, getting better, buying into an ultimate goal. You saw a transformation in certain players. With all that, I loved coming to work with this group.”

* Is he hopeful the core of this Heat team will return next season? “Yeah. Majority of the core is under contract. So, that’s what the plan will be. I think its one thing to really make a hard push two years to make the playoffs with a very underdog type story and team. It’s much more challenging to get into the playoffs and now manage how you’re going to advance. That’s why we think it was so important for this group to have that experience. It’s not easy in the playoffs.”

* On where Hassan Whiteside stands with the Heat: “We’re well-aware of the story lines that can come out during the playoffs. Hassan’s not the first player nor the last player that will have experienced a playoff series and not been able to contribute the way he envisioned or wanted. There’s a history of players that have gone through that. That’s why it’s so important to get in, to experience it, all the emotions and the highs and lows and everything in between because then you have an opportunity to really grow. I think this was an important series for him to manage. The narrative and the storylines that will be out there, I do think are unfair about Hassan right now. Because coming into the season, yes there was probably a different path from Game 1. The game he had against Orlando in Orlando, he was on track. He had a very good training camp, a very productive preseason. He started off on a great note and got hurt. And that’s the unfortunate part about it. It’s not about making any excuse for him, it is a reality.

“I loved where he was in March. I thought he was really trending and preparing and really taking the appropriate steps to be able to help us get in the playoffs and then help us in the first round. And for the most part, that wasn’t the case because of the rhythm and the timing and because we ran out of time. But even something like Game 4, I think was great for him. To be able to handle the adversity, the narratives and then to come out with a very productive game in a response to that. I like seeing players get uncomfortable because of the competition of the playoffs. It happens. … But once we get into the summer, the relationship and the commitment won’t change. I love working with Hassan. I love the journey. I love all of it.”

* Does he think this roster as presently constructed can contend for a title?: “Do you know who you’re talking to? I haven’t even talked about it with Pat [Riley], but I’m sure he’ll say the same thing. C’mon that’s just how we are wired. We see progress, we see growth. Expectations do not scare us. What the opinion on the outside, how rational or irrational may think we are, we don’t care. We think we have a group that can contend.”

* On the bone bruise Whiteside suffered in the season opener when he bumped knees with Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic: “That’s probably what I’ll look back on as most frustrating is what could have been if he didn’t collide with Vucevic. The story line should be Vucevic right now. It was all accidental. I’m not putting it on him. But that changed the course of his season. He really battled and grinded through not feeling 100 percent, several times. It’s just one of those seasons that never felt like he was able to fully be healthy and ready to give like he was in that first game.”

* Will he lobby for Dwyane Wade to return next season?: “I just had an awkward hug with him in the locker room. When we hugged after the game, I was basically in tears. And I’ll be honest, right now I’m just not emotionally ready to go there or even to have just a normal conversation. I tried to walk by. I said I don’t want to read anything in his eyes. I just said, ‘Hey, let’s both get away. Let’s connect for lunch in a few weeks.’ And we’ll leave it at that right now. It doesn’t take away anything from the last few weeks. This has been a treasure to be able to have an opportunity to be able to coach him again. I tried to enjoy every moment of it.”

* Is he hopeful impending free agent Wayne Ellington will be back with the Heat next season?: “I love Wayne and we’re all hopeful of it. And I’m sure Wayne wants to be back. Usually when that happens, regardless of whatever scenarios people could have right now at the end of April. First, I know the visions of my boss. Anything in this league, he can get done. So people are saying can you contend for a title with this team? I know who I work for. And then, secondly, I know the creativity of Andy Elisburg. But none of it has to be decided right now.”

* On Dion Waiters’ status as he continues to recover from ankle surgery: “I’m not sure when, but he’s going to be more than 100 percent. If this was 100 percent this year, he’s going to be better than that next year, that’s for sure. I don’t think he’s felt right, physically, since when he first got here. He got in great shape, but once he injured his ankle, then he was always dealing with that. So I think this is going to be a really important summer for him. He’s going to be here and he’ll be working a ton behind the scenes just to get his legs right, then he’ll work on the next step of getting in world-class shape and then he’ll get into the next phase of really developing his basketball skills. I don’t have a timeline on that, right now, at the end of April.”

* On Kelly Olynyk’s first season with the Heat: “I still always go back to Kelly and that free-agent call that he and I jumped on before he made the decision and really recruited him, but also told him how much we respected him because of the battles that we’d been in and thought that this could be a great fit for him, to transform and become even more, with a little bit more opportunity and he bought into it wholeheartedly with both feet, so committed this summer. He already is a tremendous worker, very skilled, very well coached over his college and pro careers that it was really fun to see his growth and his progress this year. He became a player that I think on every team we played, just like Wayne Ellington, he was high on their scouting report, that you have to handle him to be able to handle the Heat. And it was a lot of fun. Working with him, I think he has that kind of upside, still, at 26, that he can make another big jump this summer, particularly the way he works. He can come back something different next year.”

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