MIAMI – Erik Spoelstra was a little busy to watch assistant Dan Craig’s unofficial NBA coaching debut Sunday, but he has caught up since spending that day welcoming his first child into the world.
Spoelstra, who returned to the bench for Tuesday’s convincing victory over Cleveland after he and his wife, Nikki, had their first child, Santiago Ray, on Sunday, praised Craig’s coaching skills, saying Craig, 37, is ahead of where Spoelstra was at Craig’s age.
“When I was that age I was becoming the head coach of the Heat but I told him, ‘you’re a thousand years ahead of where I was at that time,’’’ said Spoelstra, 47, who is in his 10th season as head coach.
“DC’s so much further advanced than I was even my first game. I didn’t know what I was doing. DC’s a well-schooled, well-drilled basketball coach. This guy’s ready to be a head coach right now in the league. He can certainly handle one game. This whole operation the way we’ve worked it guys have really stepped up and taken on more responsibility.”
Spoelstra left the team Saturday when learning Nikki went into labor and missed the first game of his head coaching career the next day. The Heat lost to the Pacers in overtime and although Craig was the acting coach, the loss goes on Spoelstra’s record.
Spoelstra said Craig “looks totally comfortable” in the head chair, especially after the experiences of coaching the Heat’s summer league team and the franchise’s developmental league team in Sioux Falls. Craig coached the Skyforce to the 2015-16 D-League championship. Craig is in his second season as Spoelstra’s assistant head coach.
As for Spoelstra, he leaned on assistant Ron Rothstein his first season. Rothstein was a long-time NBA coach who had stops in Miami and Detroit as a head coach as well as being an assistant for 22 years. Rothstein was the first head coach in Heat history.
“That means something,” Spoelstra said about Craig’s experience. “It gives you a lot of experience under fire whereas my first year coaching I literally had no idea what I was doing. Ronny had to tell me when to call time out. He’d be whispering, ‘hey, time out.’ ‘What?’ ‘Time out.’ ‘What?’ ‘TIME OUT!’
“Ronny was barking at me, screaming at me, ‘put this guy in.’ And finally, ‘we need to blitz him, trap him.’ Without Ronny, my first year I wouldn’t have survived. I just didn’t have the experience. I didn’t have the savviness these guys had at this point. I learned all of mine through pain. On the job training.”
Spoelstra also referenced assistants Juwan Howard and Chris Quinn, and Eric Glass, who moved up to video coordinator and player development coach this season.
“And not only DC but Juwan is ready to take that next step soon; Chris Quinn what he did (as the Heat’s Summer League coach) was tremendous, he’s going to be a future head coach,” Spoelstra said. “Eric Glass behind the bench. … he’s going to be a head coach. He’ll be the next in line to come out of the video room and get on the staff.”
Spoelstra also started in the video room.
“But it just shows you how much our staff has grown, how much it really is a village. Even with me coaching our staff really helps and it shows how much guys have improved.”