Erik Spoelstra Will Prove This Year Whether He's Actually a Great Coach

Erik Spoelstra is on the hot seat this year, Uncle Luke says.
Erik Spoelstra is on the hot seat this year, Uncle Luke says.
photo by Keith Allison via Flickr CC

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went from driving Dad's Bugatti to piloting Mom's minivan. Now we'll see if the NBA's first Asian-American head coach is really elite — in the mold of his mentor Pat Riley or Boston Celtics legends Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, and Gregg Popovich.

The team started off hot, with a season-opening 108-96 scorching of the Orlando Magic. That gave Spoelstra 400 wins, second only to Riley in Heat history. The team followed up with consecutive losses to the Charlotte Hornets and San Antonio Spurs. After Sunday's game against the Spurs, Spoelstra already showed signs of problems with Hassan Whiteside when he called out the Heat center for not playing through leg cramps near the end of the fourth quarter.

Riley gave his former assistant the keys to the Miami Heat franchise in 2008. Two years later came the Big Three: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. During Spoelstra's eight years at the helm, the Heat has missed the playoffs only once. In fact, the Big Three era brought back-to-back world titles in 2012 and 2013 and four consecutive NBA finals appearances.

Erik Spoelstra Will Prove This Year Whether He's Actually a Great Coach (2)
Alex Izaguirre

Yet there were signs the players didn't respect Spoelstra, such as the time James bumped him during a time-out in a game against Dallas in 2010. Then there was the time Wade yelled at him during a 2012 playoff game against Indiana. And at times, Spoelstra ran James ragged, just as he has done recently with Whiteside.

When James bolted home for Cleveland and Bosh began having recurring blood clots, Spoelstra's job became more difficult. But he still had Wade to save the Heat's playoff chances. Not anymore. After 13 years with the Heat, Wade went home to Chicago this offseason.

Sure, the team has a good crop of young, talented players such as Whiteside, Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, and Justise Winslow. But you can't make a case that any one of them will become an All-Star, much less beat James and his defending NBA champion Cavaliers in a seven-game series.

Spoelstra's legacy depends on the outcome of this season. If the Heat fails to make the playoffs, maybe he was just lucky to have coached the best players in team history.

Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.


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