ESPN analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy believe the Miami Heat are headed to the playoffs and could be a difficult team to beat.
One reason both like the Heat is because of coach Erik Spoelstra, who both believe is one day headed for the Hall of Fame.
“Erik Spoelstra in my opinion is one of the best in the business,” Jackson said. “He is an outstanding coach and a future Hall of Famer.”
Spoelstra, entering his 10th season, spearheaded a turnaround in 2016-17 from 10-31 the first half of the season to 31-10 the second half. The Heat lost out on the final playoff spot playoffs because of a tiebreaker.
“I’ll second the fact that Erik Spoelstra is a Hall of Fame coach,” Van Gundy said. “He’s done a terrific job in so many roles there but in this leadership role as a head coach he’s had the best team and the best talent and then he’s had young teams he’s had to develop and he’s done a great job with both situations. One thing about Miami they’re going to guard especially hard and they’re going to be tough to play against.”
Spoelstra is 440-282 and 70-43 in the playoffs since replacing Pat Riley in 2008. He has passed Riley for the best regular season winning percentage (.609) in franchise history, the most post season wins and best post season winning percentage (.619).
The Heat brought back every significant player from last year’s team plus added big men Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. Miami received bad news Thursday when it announced forward Rodney McGruder has a stress fracture in his left leg. McGruder will miss a significant amount of time.
“(Spoelstra’s) done a great job and they’ve done a great job of making sure they got the pieces back and also adding pieces,” Jackson said. “Because of the way they play, the way they compete the way they defend. … the way they get after it, they are certainly a playoff team in the Eastern Conference and if they’re healthy and whole they will be a tough out.”
Van Gundy said it’s difficult to compare this team to the one that dug itself out of a deep hole to finish .500 last season because “every year things change, team dynamics change, people get paid and you don’t know how that impacts performance.”
But he added he believes the Heat need solid years out of point guard Goran Dragic and center Hassan Whiteside if they are going to be playing into late April.
“A lot comes down to Dragic’s offensive explosion like he had in EuroBasket this year,” Van Gundy said. “What he did there was terrific (and) his last half of the year last year was great.”
Dragic led Slovenia to the EuroBasket championship in September.
“If they get a great year out of him and Whiteside they’ll definitely be in the playoffs.”
The Heat open the regular season Wednesday in Orlando.
The Miami Heat boosted their training camp roster to 18 Tuesday by adding another guard.
Larry Drew II, the 27-year-old who has played 10 games in the NBA, was signed late Tuesday. Drew joins additions Matt Williams Jr. and Derrick Walton Jr., two guards signed this summer.
Although the roster now includes nine guards, Drew is the only true point guard behind Goran Dragic.
Here are five things you should now about Drew…
1. Drew was in the Heat’s training camp twice before, 2013 and 2014, and has played for Miami’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, during the last four years. He has played in 96 career G-League games, all with the Skyforce. Of those, 77 games came in 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. He is averaging 10.8 points, 7.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds, while shooting 47.6 percent from the floor, including 41.6 percent on threes in his G-League career. In 2014, he was cut late in camp, along with Tyler Johnson. Both years in which he was cut he was extended an invitation to play in Sioux Falls. On Christmas Day 2014 he set the G League single game assist record in a Sioux Falls win over Rio Grande Valley.
2. Drew played college basketball for two bluebloods. He started his career at North Carolina, where he played three seasons, averaging 4.8 points and 3.9 assists before transferring to UCLA. At UCLA he set the single-season assist record of 256, which was broken this year by Lonzo Ball, who had 274. Drew left UNC in the middle of his sophomore season after being removed from the starting lineup. Weeks later Drew explained his decision in freestyle rap: “The past three years I can’t undo, so now I’m making all the moves that I want to … They tried to tell me just to play my role, but who’s really trying to stick to a script that’s full of typos?” That move was going to UCLA. Drew, who grew up just outside of Los Angeles, dreamed of attending UCLA but chose North Carolina after coach Ben Howland demanded a commitment one week after offering him a scholarship. Howland later took full responsibility for Drew signing with UNC. Drew was not drafted in 2013.
3. Drew was part of the gold medal winning United States team at the FIBA AmeriCup this summer, a team coach by Jeff Van Gundy. He appeared in five games and averaged 4.6 points, 5.0 assists, 2.0 rebounds and a steal in 19.4 minutes while shooting 52.9 percent from the floor. Drew also has played internationally in Lithuania and Puerto Rico.
4. Drew’s father, Larry Drew, is a longtime coach in the NBA after a 10-year NBA career. He has been coaching since 1992, spending all but four of those as an assistant for seven different teams, including the Cavaliers where he now coaches. He was named head coach of the Hawks in 2010 and spent three seasons there before taking over in Milwaukee for a year. He has a 143-169 record as a head coach. Larry Sr. played four years at Missouri and was taken 17th overall by the Pistons in 1980. He averaged 11.4 points and 5.2 assists while playing for four franchises. His best year was 1982-83 when he averaged 20.1 points and 8.1 assists (sixth in the league) for the Kansas City Kings.
5. Drew was a teammate of Heat guard Wayne Ellington’s for one year at North Carolina, a year that ended with the Tar Heels capturing the national title. Drew was just a freshman and averaged 1.4 points in 38 games. Ellington, a junior, averaged 15.8 points and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Then, following the 2013-14 season, James decided he was going home to play once again for the Cavaliers and join Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love (who was in the process of being acquired from Minnesota), shifting the power in the Eastern Conference from Miami to Cleveland. Like the Heat, the Cavaliers lost in the Finals in their first year of the Big 3 and won the title in Year 2.
On Thursday, Cleveland and Golden State will play Game 1 of the Finals, the third consecutive season the two teams have met in the championship round.
I asked NBA analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy to compare LeBron’s Miami and Cleveland teams.
“In fairness to the Big 3 in Cleveland we’re talking about three future Hall of Famers right away in Miami,” Jackson said. “Chris Bosh. … 11 time All-Star. Dwyane Wade, in my opinion the third best shooting guard who ever played the game. And then LeBron James in his prime.
“So in fairness this group in Cleveland has much more to accomplish and that’s not to sell them short because all three guys in my opinion will be in the Hall of Fame but they have much more to prove. Those guys were in their prime and accomplished from Day 1.”
As for Van Gundy, he answered it with eight words.
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.
“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.
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.
“They have a Hall of Fame coach in Erik Spoelstra and they have demonstrated time and again they can make moves and put themselves in a position to get players,” Van Gundy said this week.
It’s high praise for a coach who despite being the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA is still one of the 10 youngest. Just two other coaches – San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Dallas’ Jeff Carlisle – have even coached 400 career NBA games.
“It’s very tough to see that around the league,” Spoelstra, who turns 46 in one week, said in an interview with the Post. “And then you see where there is incredible support and patience. We don’t see as a coincidence that organizations like us or San Antonio are able to rework their teams through different machinations and come out of it quicker because of their continuity.”
Spoelstra counts at least four times he believes he would have been fired by another organization under the same circumstances he’s faced since replacing Pat Riley. And the hot spots all are connected to the Big Three Era.
In 2010, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade, Spoelstra was entering his third season as a head coach. He had failed to win a playoff series in his first two years. “Putting together a team like that I could see other places making a change to get an older more experienced championship coach,” Spoelstra said.
Then, just 17 games into the Big Three Era the Heat were 9-8 when some believed they would not lose many more than eight games the entire season.
Miami recovered and made it to Finals … where it blew a 2-1 series lead, losing three straight to the Mavericks. If Spoelstra survived the 9-8 start, he likely would not have lasted after falling short of a championship with some other franchise.
The Big Three delivered the next two season, winning back-to-back titles. But failing to win a third in a row in 2014, followed by James returning to Cleveland, would have made the head coach a convenient scapegoat.
“I’m in one of the most fortunate situations in the league,” Spoelstra said. “No matter what’s going on with our team I’m always able to quickly get back to a sense of gratitude. I see how unique this organization (is) and my bosses are compared to the rest of the league.”
A league in which more than half of its teams (16) have changed coaches just in the last two years, some more than once, and the Nets and Kings are on their eighth coach since Spoelstra took over in Miami.
Spoelstra’s long career in Miami has everything to do with his link to Riley, whose 22-year run with the organization coincides with owner Micky Arison taking over in 1995.
Arison’s first move was to lure Riley from New York late that summer as head coach and president. That same year, Spoelstra started with the Heat as a video coordinator. Five years later Spoelstra was promoted to an advance scout and soon he was on the bench as an assistant coach. Later, it became apparent Spoelstra was being groomed to one day to succeed Riley as head coach.
Riley likely saw a lot of himself in Spoelstra. Riley was 36 when he was handed the Lakers’ reigns. Spoelstra was 37. Neither had any head coaching experience at any level.
Spoelstra worked under Riley and Stan Van Gundy as an assistant. He likened those years to earning his Master’s degree in coaching.
One of Spoelstra’s assignments when he became the lead assistant was to handle the scouting reports for all 82 regular season games and the playoffs. “A beast,” he says.
But it was Riley’s way and it became a Heat way.
“You did three times the work (most team split it among three coaches) plus the preseason and the playoffs, preparing for a series for a demanding detailed coach,” Spoelstra said.
“That was an invaluable experience. Game planning and preparing. Doing game after game after game instead of a third of the season. That’s worth its price in gold for me.”
Riley continues to have unwavering faith in Spoelstra, especially to lead his team though another rebuilding phase. With Wade’s stunning decision to part Miami after 13 seasons and Bosh’s recurring blood clot issues forcing the end of his Miami career, the decision was to make center Hassan Whiteside the face of the franchise, give Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson more responsibility and hope established players like Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters and Udonis Haslem can help guide Miami through a transition year.
“Coach’s attitude and my attitude is we want to win,” Riley said. “We’re rebuilding now. We’re not re-tweaking like we did with the Big Three or re-tooling like right after LeBron left.
“We expect to put very competitive high energy, every athletic team on the court.”
Still, Riley says Spoelstra’s biggest coaching challenge was trying to meet the astronomical expectations that came with coaching James, Wade and Bosh, and not attempting to squeeze victories out of a team that was put together on the fly this summer.
As for Spoelstra. …
“Each year is a different challenge,” he said. “You’re normally not given an opportunity to coach different teams at the same place but we’ve been able to coach up-and-coming teams, championship-ready-now teams and a teams like this that we don’t know how to define it.
“That’s exciting, that’s fun. But Game 1, when we get to Orlando, I won’t feel any less of a challenge.”
“When you start off with Pat Riley, that Heat organization and Erik Spoelstra the culture is already there. … They compete at a high level,” Jackson said. “I expect them to still shockingly be fighting for a playoff spot in the East and have a legitimate chance because of the way they get after it and a culture that has been instilled there over a long time.”
“The defense and effort level they’ll expend on a nightly basis. … You have (Hassan) Whiteside as an elite shot blocker and you have Erik Spoelstra who’s an elite coach and you surround them with a bunch of hard playing younger players and they’re going to get after you and it’s not going to be easy.”
Both believe the challenge will be on offense and who Miami trusts when the game is on the line. And even with a likely step back from last season’s 48-win team, Van Gundy sees a quick recovery.
“Miami has proven they’ve had a couple of down years in the Riley era followed by a quick ascension,” said Van Gundy, who coached under Riley in New York before succeeding him as head coach in 1996.
“It’s a place players want to play. They have a Hall of Fame coach in Erik Spoelstra and they have demonstrated time and again they can make moves and put themselves in a position to get players.”