Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra is succeeding in a can’t-win job

Written By Michael Maunda on Monday, June 18, 2012 | 11:15 PM

MIAMI — The Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra has virtually no hope of being described as a coaching genius, at least not anytime soon. As Miami takes a 2-1 lead in the NBA Finals into Game4 here Tuesday night, Spoelstra seems to realize there are only two possible outcomes for him: to be largely overlooked in victory or judged a failure in defeat.

Yet Spoelstra, now in his fourth season as Miami’s coach, has quietly, subtly and maybe even artfully manipulated a team that — for all the attention it has gotten for its Big Three stars — started the playoffs with gigantic holes in its lineup and a perceived late-game confidence problem. And then it lost forward Chris Bosh for nine games.

“He’s done a masterful job,” said Hall of Fame Coach Jack Ramsay, now a commentator for ESPN Radio. “This isn’t the best roster in the world. He’s made that work.”

All season, Spoelstra has tangled with the team’s personnel deficiencies at point guard and center, and a bench Ramsay described as lacking. Though the Heat might have the most talented trio in the league in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh, it would also be in the running for the weakest in those other areas.

Spoelstra has “been challenged the last two years by a lot of people, but I think he’s been awesome,” James said. “Two straight Finals appearances, and he’s put us in position to win each and every game. ... He’s been a great coach.”

Unlike former Heat coach Pat Riley, now team president, Spoelstra has never sought to project the attitude of an all-powerful commander in chief. He freely admits he consults constantly with his one-time mentor, talking so frequently the pair resorts to conversations via text messages. 

Players say Spoelstra also seeks their input, even on the sideline in the waning seconds of games. If somebody has a gut feeling about a good call, Spoelstra is as likely to go with that as his own. 

He encourages “players to voice their opinion on certain situations, either at practice or in a game, no matter what the magnitude of the game is,” James said. “As a player you love that.”

Spoelstra, who climbed from video coordinator to assistant coach during Riley’s tenure as head coach, is no pushover, however. When he doesn’t like something, he will say so, and is generally savvy enough to back it up with visual evidence. Players say he still relies on the tool that earned him the notice and respect of Riley.

“He didn’t play in the NBA; as he puts it, he played in a beer league in Germany for a few years,” forward Shane Battier said. “[But] he comes from a background of video coordinator. It’s called the ‘truth tape’ because it doesn’t lie. He’s done a good job of using tape to teach.”

Added Battier: “It’s a fine line. We all respect him as our coach ... [but] no team in the NBA is completely obedient. The good coaches in this league have a feel for the players. They are able to adjust and allow input without allowing the inmates to run the asylum.”

Asked about how he’s evolved as a coach, Spoelstra shrugged.