Clippers’ Doc Rivers on Heat’s ‘unassuming’ Erik Spoelstra: ‘The greatest coach that no one knows’

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra directs his team during Saturday’s game the Clippers in Miami. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

MIAMI – Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was uncomfortable talking about his pursuit of Pat Riley’s Miami Heat coaching record and the Clippers Doc Rivers is not surprised.

“The respect for Spo has always been there,” Rivers said before the Heat’s 90-85 victory Saturday that gave Spoelstra his 455th win, passing Riley as the franchise’s all-time winningest coach.

“Spo is so unassuming. He’s like the greatest coach that no one knows. I think that’s the way he probably wants it. I don’t know how he gets away with it, though. I mean, he’s had the three great players (Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh) together, he looks like he’s on the GQ cover and nobody actually notices him. He’s a terrific coach and one of the great ones. I mean, whenever you do something and the say that you tied Pat Riley, I think you can (realize) how good he is.”

Sure, Spoelstra would rather have seen his team clicking on offense, build a 20-point halftime lead and cruise to an easy victory for the milestone win.

But that’s not this team. And in the end, when the Heat were able to hang on for an ugly win, he felt it was appropriate considering what the game meant.

“I thought that it would be most fitting to go retro and have an old-school Miami Heat game in honor of coach Riley,” Spoelstra said. “This is the type of game he probably enjoys the most: You win shooting (37.8) percent. I think we scored too many points this game. But those are the old-school, tough, grind-it-out, find-any-way-as-a-competitor to win the games. That’s in honor of my mentor and my coach. He’s still my coach.”

Yeah, but he’s now looking up at his protégé, on many fronts. Spoelstra, who took over for Riley before the 2008-09 season, is 455-296 for a franchise best .606 winning percentage in nine-plus years. His 70 postseason wins are 36 more than Riley had with the Heat and his two titles (2012, 2013) is one more than Riley won in Miami (2006).

Riley was 454-395 in 11 seasons with the Heat, a .535 winning percentage.

The win also moved Spoelstra into 35th place on the NBA all-time list, passing one of the Heat’s original owners, Billy Cunningham, and Byron Scott.

Riley is fourth on that list with 1,210 wins with Lakers, Knicks and Heat. Rivers is 15th at 815. Riley’s 171 playoff wins are second to Phil Jackson, who had 229. Spoelstra is 14th on that list.

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With the Clippers’ uncertain future, could the Miami Heat have interest in any of their free agents?

Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers looks on during Game 5 of their opening-round series against the Jazz. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The storyline of the week in the NBA: Is it time to break up the Clippers?

And if it is – if president/coach Doc Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer decide not to bring back a team intact that for the fifth consecutive season was unable to reach the conference final after winning at least 50 games – can the Heat benefit?

The immediate future of the Clippers – who lost in seven games to the Utah Jazz in the opening round of the playoffs – centers around three primary players that are expected to become free agents this summer: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick.

Griffin and Paul both have early termination clauses in their contracts, meaning they can become unrestricted free agents. Both are expected to exercise that option but reportedly they are in different places with the organization.

Paul, who would make $24.3 million next season if he did not opt out, remains among the league’s elite point guards. Reports have circulated for months a deal is in place for him to return to L.A., one that would pay him about $205 million for five years. The Heat – and any other team – could offer Paul a maximum four-year deal for about $158 million.

[How do Heat players compare to rest of NBA? Here’s what HoopsHype had to say]

[Pat Riley, Larry Bird have been fierce competitors for nearly 40 years]

But even at that price, Paul would start at about $36 million. Goran Dragic is returning next season for $17 million. Although Paul would be an upgrade, is he worth twice the money than Dragic next season and a lot more over the duration of the contract? Here are their numbers from 2016-17 for two players born on the same day (May 6) with Paul turning 32 on Saturday and Dragic turning 31:

Paul averaged 18.1 points, 9.2 assists while shooting .476, .411 on 3 pointers. His player efficiency rating according to NBA.com was 24.8

Dragic averaged 20.3 points, 5.8 assists while shooting .476, .406 on 3 pointers. His player efficiency rating according to NBA.com was 19.3.

Even if deals could be worked out where the Heat could trade Dragic along with shedding more salary, don’t look for Paul in a Heat uniform. In fact, with these reports out there for months, it would be very surprising if Paul does not return to the Clippers.

Griffin’s future in L.A. is much more uncertain. Although just 28, he has had his last two postseason’s cut short because of injuries and has missed a full season’s worth of games (83) over the last three years because of various injuries.

Griffin will opt out of his $21.4 contract for 2016-17 with the hopes of signing a max deal. If it is with the Clippers, is would be for about $175 million over five years. If the Clippers decide to move on from Griffin, his max deal would be four years for about $130 million.

Both would start at $31 million. If the Heat got involved it would basically mean adding Griffin and one or two more low level free agents but losing Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Willie Reed and likely Wayne Ellington.

Anthony Chiang broke down the pros and cons of Griffin joining the Heat here.

J.J. Redick who is coming off his worst postseason performance in many years (9.1 points on .380 shooting including .346 on threes) will be an unrestricted free agent. He earned $7.3 million this season and will receive a nice raise.

Redick will be overpaid this summer. The speculation is he’ll receive somewhere from $17 million to $20 million a year. At that price, the Heat will stay far away, especially if they can bring back Waiters at an equal or slightly lower price. Last season Redick averaged 15.0 points and shot 44.5 percent, 42.9 on threes. Waiters averaged 15.8 points and shot 42.3 percent, 39.4 on threes.

At 25, Waiters is seven years younger than Redick and his drive-and-kick game is far superior to Redick’s

One Clippers player who could interest the Heat is small forward Luc Mbah a Moute, who is expected to decline his player option of $2.3 million and become a free agent.

The 6-foot-8 Mbah a Moute is defensive oriented with very little offensive game (6.1 points in 22.3 minutes). He would not cost much, possibly an exception. The question is with the makeup of their team, would the Heat need more offense or defense coming off the bench?

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The case for the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra for Coach of the Year

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra watches during the second half of game against Portland in Miami in March. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The lamest argument against Erik Spoelstra for NBA Coach of the Year is the Miami Heat did not make the playoffs.

That means the vote comes down to how the Pacers did against the Hawks or how the Bulls did against the Nets on the final night of the regular season?

How does that make any sense?

If either of those two teams lose, Spoelstra is deemed the league’s best coach because the Heat make the playoffs with the exact same 41-41 record and exact same 30-11 run the second half of the season?

A run that gave the Heat the second-best record in the league over the final three months, behind the Warriors.

We all know that did not happen, the Heat lost out on the postseason on a tie-breaker and Erik Spoelstra is not going to win Coach of the Year. …

But he should.

That award, which will be announced at the first-ever NBA Awards banquet June 26, likely will go to Mike D’Antoni, who improved Houston’s win total by 14 to 55-47 and put James Harden in position to become a legitimate MVP candidate.

But the case for Spoelstra is strong, and not just as some mercy vote to atone for finishing second in 2013 when he led the Heat to a 66-20 record.

Even with that run in which the Heat played in four consecutive Finals, this was Spoelstra’s best coaching job. And while the burden on a coach should not be dismissed when a team has three (or, as he did during two of those Finals runs, four) future Hall of Famers, Spoelstra’s job was so much more difficult, on and off the court, this season.

Spoelstra is my choice not only for taking a team that did not have one All-Star, current or past, from an 11-30 first half to a stunning reversal in the second half of the season, but for the job he did while not blowing a whistle or scheming on a dry-erase board. He kept this players’ spirits buoyed and kept them from turning into the Nets when they were 19 games under .500 entering of Jan. 17.

“The man has won two world championships,” Heat president, and Spoelstra’s mentor, Pat Riley said during the season. “He’s been in more big, big games with a different team. There’s always challenges when you have great teams that are supposed to win. … And then there’s this kind of challenge in which I think he’s handled with great experience and by staying the course.”

[Goran Dragic’s summer vacation: Trips to dentist, spending time with family, playing for national team]

[Ex-NBA commissioner David Stern: ‘Shame on the Nets’ for resting players on final night of season]

[Does trading for Paul George make sense for the Heat?]

The award should be narrowed to five candidates: Spoelstra, D’Antoni, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Boston’s Brad Stevens and Utah’s Quin Snyder.

Spoelstra undeniably had the least to work with among the candidates. And it wasn’t close.

Just look at the number of All-Star Games represented on each roster: Spurs 23, Jazz 8, Celtics 6, Rockets 5. …

Heat 0.

And if you want to expand the pool to Washington’s Scott Brooks and the Warriors Steve Kerr (whose team had the league’s best record at 76-12), the Wizards have four All-Star appearances on their roster and the Warriors have 20.

Speaking of the best record: That 2012-13 season when Miami won 66 games, Denver’s George Karl won the award with a 57-25 record. Spoelstra was runner-up, 214 votes behind.

But here’s the most inexplicable number surrounding Spoelstra when it comes to Coach of the Year voting: In the other three years of the Big Three, three seasons in which the Heat went to three Finals, won a title and averaged nearly 53 wins a season, Spoelstra received one vote. … combined.

That was a first place vote in 2010-11. The next year 15 coaches received at least one vote, none named Erik Spoelstra. That same thing happened in 2013-14.

Just three times has the league’s coach of the year not had a winning record, and once he had a losing record, Johnny Kerr whose 1966-67 Chicago Bulls were 33-48.

Hubie Brown won the award in 1977-78 when his Atlanta Hawks were 41-41 and the last coach to win the award without a winning record is Doc Rivers, whose 1999-00 Magic team also finished 41-41 and also missed the playoffs by one game. Orlando finished one game behind the No. 8. This season Heat were tied with the Bulls for the eighth-best record in the conference but lost out on a tie-breaker.

The teams were similar in that the Magic became known for their “heart and hustle” that season – a label that certainly could be attached to this season’s Heat – and, though not as dramatic as Miami’s poor start and late-season run, Orlando was once eight games under .500 and rallied late by winning 10-of-15 games.

The dagger for Orlando was on the second-last game of the season when it lost a heartbreaking two-point game to the Bucks. A win that would have put the Magic in the playoffs and even given them a chance at the No. 7 seed.

Sound familiar?

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Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra gaining momentum in Coach of Year conversation. But can he win it?

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra watches his team during the first half of Miami’s victory at the Knicks on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Miami’s Erik Spoelstra name is coming up more frequently in Coach of the Year talk with the Heat solidly in contention for a playoff spot.

The latest are analysts Greg Anthony and Jeff Van Gundy.

Anthony declared Monday on NBA TV that, “if the Heat make the playoffs, Erik Spoelstra is coach of the year.”

Van Gundy, talking to Fox 26 in Houston, said his top two are Spoelstra and the Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni.

This follows what analyst Reggie Miller tweeted last week to his nearly 800,000 followers:

“My Coach of the Year vote goes to Erik Spoelstra, especially if the Heat end up making Playoffs.. Miami had to reinvent themselves..”

Miller went on to say Boston’s Brad Stevens, D’Antoni and Utah’s Quin Snyder are strong candidates but that each is “working with All Stars and potential MVPs.”

Spoelstra also received love from Hall of Famers Kevin McHale and Isiah Thomas on Monday.

McHale said he didn’t think the Heat would win 25 games and then “they started believing in each other. A lot of that goes to Erik Spoelstra.”

Thomas said the Heat “probably are the most physically fit team in the East.”

The Heat (37-38) have won 26-of-34 games after having the second worst record in the league at 11-30. Miami is No. 7 in the East by virtue of owning the tiebreaker over Indiana, 1.5 games ahead of No. 9 Chicago.

With Atlanta and Milwaukee tied for the fifth and sixth best records in the league (39-36), the Heat are two games out of the fifth spot.

Heat guard Goran Dragic recently posted a video on Twitter through “Uninterrupted” campaigning for Spoelstra to be coach of the year.

“In my opinion, he should win Coach of the Year,” Dragic said. “Everybody knows how we started the season and how we’ve bounced back, and a lot of credit goes to Erik.

“He’s an unbelievable coach, and a lot of players, we love to play for him. He’s putting the guys in the right spots and that’s how the players can thrive under his system. And he’s such a great communicator with all the players.”

FanRag picks Spoelstra over Washington’s Scott Brooks and D’Antoni and the praise has come from all corners, including his peers and his boss, Heat president Pat Riley.

The most recent coach to single out Spoelstra was Boston’s Brad Stevens. And Detroit’s Stan Van Gundy, whose team suffered a huge blow to their playoff hopes Tuesday, losing 79-96 at home to the Heat on a Hassan Whiteside tip in at the buzzer, said earlier this season that “there’s  not a better coach in the league” than Spoelstra.

Spoelstra, who was named the Eastern Conference’s coach of the month for February, likely has to get the Heat to .500 and into the playoffs to be a serious contender. If he does – and that could happen Friday when Miami returns home to face the Knicks – the Heat would become the first team in NBA history to reach .500 after being 19 games under.

Just three coaches in history have won the award coaching a team that was .500 or below, the most recent being Doc Rivers when his 1999-00 Orlando team finished 41-41 and missed the playoffs by one game.

One coach who won’t be voting for Spoelstra is Golden State’s Steve Kerr, who said Tuesday he believes D’Antoni has earned the honor.

“I think the fit with the roster and Mike’s philosophy has been perfect,” Kerr said Tuesday. “What he’s so good at is really giving his players confidence and belief. They’re obviously having an amazing year. My guess is that he’ll get the trophy. He’s earned it.”

The Coach of the Year award most is voted upon by the media. The National Basketball Coaches Association also recognizes a COY. That award, which will be named after Michael H. Goldberg, the longtime executive director of the NBCA who died in January, is voted upon by the coaches.

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[NBA officiating report states Hassan Whiteside’s game-winning basket vs. Pistons never should have happened]

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Clippers coach Doc Rivers on Whiteside-Jordan matchup: ‘This wasn’t Ali-Frazier’

 

Heat center Hassan Whiteside (second from left) was on the bench when DeAndre Jordan put back a missed Chris Paul free throw to seal the Clippers win Friday. )AP Photo)
Heat center Hassan Whiteside (second from left) was on the bench when DeAndre Jordan put back a missed Chris Paul free throw to seal the Clippers win Friday. (AP Photo)

MIAMI – The Miami Heat had clawed and scratched their way back from a 16-point deficit Friday and appeared they would have the ball in the final seconds with an opportunity to tie the game.

With no time outs and the Clippers leading by one with 9.4 seconds remaining, Chris Paul stepped to the line. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra had drawn up a three-point shot on the previous possession with center Hassan Whiteside on the bench. He kept him there figuring Paul, an 88 percent free throw shooter, wasn’t going miss.

But Paul’s second free throw rolled off and without Whiteside on the floor, his Clippers counterpart, DeAndre Jordan, stepped in for the offensive rebound and the put back for the final basket in a 102-98 Clippers win.

“I’m figuring Chris Paul is going to knock in both those,” Spoelstra said. “Even if he doesn’t I figure we can get one rebound. One rebound.

“We had a play I wanted those guys on the floor. They executed the last few things. Obviously knowing now Chris Paul would miss then I’d probably have Hassan in the game. But it would have changed that last play. It’s tough when it comes down to that.”

Those final few seconds capped a rough day for Whiteside. He was not happy following the game, but pick your reason: Perhaps it was because Miami’s $98 million man was on the bench when the game was on the line, or perhaps because earlier he was forced to clarify comments he made about Jordan, or maybe it was because after those comments the Clippers’ center then outplayed Whiteside by posting 12 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks. Jordan shot 5-of-7.

Whiteside was asked about not being on the floor at the end.

“I don’t really know what to say to that,” he said. “I don’t know. You’ll have to write no comment for that.”

Later he was asked about his matchup with Jordan. Whiteside closed with 11 pts, 17 rebounds and one block. He missed seven of his 12 shots.

“I don’t know, man,” he said. “It wasn’t really a matchup to me. I wasn’t focused on the matchup. I was just trying to keep Chris Paul from getting inside.”

Earlier, Whiteside was forced to backtrack from his comments made Thursday when he appeared to disparage Jordan’s game when asked if the two shared any similarities.

“No,” he said. “He catches lobs. I shoot jumpers, catch lobs, block shots. I do a lot. He just catches lobs.”

But he later praised Jordan, say the two are friends and that he would “never diss another big fella” and that “obviously he’s a top three rebounder and one of the best defensive players in the game.”

[Erik Spoelstra remembers getting to know Craig Sager as young NBA scout]

[Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson out against Clippers because of illness]

Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before the game he had no problem with Whiteside expressing “his opinion” before adding, “they’re big boys, they’ll figure it out on the floor.”

Rivers once again downplayed Whiteside’s comments following the game.

“I think he was trying to say something else,” Rivers said. “But this day and time, we make a lot of it. This wasn’t Ali-Frazier, that’s for sure.”

And Jordan was not going to take the bait when asked if Whiteside’s comments fueled him.

“No,” he said. “I just wanted to come out there and get the win. I like this city a lot. To come out here and get a win was cool.”

That win seemed a lot more assured early in the fourth quarter when the Clippers (20-7) opened a 14-point lead with 10 ½ minutes to play. But Miami, once again shorthanded losing Wayne Ellington during the game because of a hamstring injury and Tyler Johnson (sick) and Dion Waiters (groin) out, came storming back.

The Heat (9-18) chipped away, and after two Austin Rivers’ mistakes, this became a one possession game for the final 13 seconds.

“Terrific second half but against a team that’s a championship caliber team you have to play 48 minutes of basketball and we weren’t able to do that,” Spoelstra said. “It looked like we were a little bit flat, sluggish in the first half, weren’t really dictating or imposing any kind of will on the game. It really looked like we showing them too much respect as a championship caliber team and really got into the battle, into the competitive spirit of the game in the second half and we had to crawl our way back in there.

“I enjoyed seeing our guys compete much better in the second half than the first half.”

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