Kelly Olynyk was enjoying a July 4 evening in Los Angeles last year, accompanied by his two best friends from his college days at Gonzaga, when the phone rang.
It was Heat president Pat Riley, who immediately that day had shifted his attention to pursuing Olynyk after learning that the Celtics had snagged Gordon Hayward in free agency and then renounced Olynyk to create cap space.
Even before that call with Riley and one immediately after with Erik Spoelstra, Olynyk knew he was intrigued about the potential of joining the Heat.
But that call, which included 40 minutes with Spoelstra, “definitely made me more convinced it would be a good spot to land, kind of a good spot to keep your career in trajectory on the upswing,” Olynyk said Thursday. “It was kind of a whirlwind, all happened so fast. I always loved the kind of stuff that they did, playing against them for those four years, putting guys... in situations where guys could succeed.
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“The way they develop their players, how you see a player go to Miami and after a year or two or after a few months, they’re a whole new person physically and mentally and on the court. It was really cool.”
Olynyk has rewarded the Heat for that four-year, $50 million investment with sterling work recently, including a 25-point, 13-rebound game in Wednesday’s win against Detroit.
Olynyk is averaging career highs in points (10.5), rebounds (5.9), assists (2.1) and minutes (23.3, up from 20.5 last season in Boston).
His points per 48 minutes (21.6) would rank eighth among all NBA centers and 12th among all NBA power forwards. And his 44.6 three-point shooting percentage leads all NBA centers and ranks second behind Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic among all power forwards.
“He’s earned it,” Spoelstra said of the increased minutes recently. “His teammates want him on the court with him. That’s the ultimate compliment. And you notice it when he’s off the floor, how the game is different.
“Very heady player. Very diligent in trying to get better and he wants to become a different player than who he’s been and we embrace that. We want him to keep on pushing to different levels and explore new and better parts of the game.”
Spoelstra already was intimately familiar with Olynyk’s skill set, but their conversation that July night gave him more insight.
“I talked to Kelly just to get a feel for him, what he was looking for in his career, whether he felt that we would be the right fit, what he knew about us, whether he felt it was a culture to help him, because we believed that he could help us,” Spoelstra said.
“And we felt that he had upside, only 25 years, that committed to player development, that he could become something more. And that’s what he’s shown. He’s been very committed behind the scenes.”
Olynyk has played 30 or more minutes just six times in 37 games, but four times in the last seven. His points and rebound numbers in those four games: 32 and 7, 15 and 12, 17 and 6 and 25 and 13.
So is Spoelstra inclined to continue playing him more? “I’m open to anything that works right now. It’s all about trust and production and improvement. He’s checking all those boxes.”
Spoelstra said Dion Waiters (ankle) and Justise Winslow (knee) will not play Friday against the Knicks – which will be the sixth consecutive missed game for Waiters and 11th for Winslow, who participated in practice Thursday (non-contact) for the first time since sustaining the sprained knee.
• Hassan Whiteside – who asked for a brief breather during the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game and ended up playing just 17 minutes - said he lost 10 pounds during his 13-game absence due to a bone bruise on his left knee. He’s at 255 pounds and wants to stay there.
During his time out with the injury, Whiteside said he rode a stationary bike 10 to 13 miles a day twice a day and ran in the pool twice a day.
Spoelstra said Whiteside “couldn’t be better with his offcourt conditioning -- body fat, weight. He just has to get game minutes to get used to game speed. And he’ll get there.”
• James Johnson said he did two miles on a bike after Wednesday’s game.
• Spoelstra leads all NBA coaches with six technical fouls after picking one up Wednesday when he touched the ball when it was in play,believing he was doing it after a shot clock violation against Miami.
“It’s such a mindless play,” he said Thursday. “I’m embarrassed about it. And I saw the clock. I was calculating in my mind, 2 1/2 . . . 2 . . . 1 1/2 . . . and I was waiting for the horn as I’m going down and it just didn’t go off.
“And as soon as I picked it up, I looked at the official and he just did a double take like, ‘Did you actually do that?’ I was hoping that for them to have a brain freeze as well and move on, but they didn’t.”
Pistons and former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy also was called for a technical Wednesday and explained it thusly: “[Referee] James Williams was just upset with me tonight. I yelled ‘come on’ when Wayne Ellington took two hands and shoved us off and he gave me the technical. It’s the first time I think I’ve gotten a technical in the league without swearing at someone.”