Miami Heat

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra takes ‘full ownership’ for last season’s struggles

El Nuevo Herald

The longest offseason of Erik Spoelstra’s NBA life included, among other things, celebrating Mother’s Day with his mother for the first time in 20 years and an engagement to longtime girlfriend Nikki Sapp.

“Right time, right person,” Spoelstra, 44, said of deciding to get married, with no date yet set.

But there also was professional growth and introspection in the wake of missing the playoffs for the first time in his seven years as the Heat’s coach and enduring a deflating, injury-ravaged season after four consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two championships.

“I take full ownership of what happened last year,” Spoelstra said Wednesday, days before the Sept. 29 opening of training camp.

“There are some things I would have done differently. Really, reflecting on what we could have done better. It should be on my shoulders.”

After spending previous summers meeting with coaches including Paul Westhead, John Calipari, Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly, Spoelstra again went on tour this offseason, speaking with people “in multiple sports, business leaders, different fields.”

Spoelstra declined to identify them. “I kept it a little more quiet this year. It was a big time growth opportunity. You are constantly trying to look for different ways to do your job better. You have to be able to adapt in this business.”

What emerged for Spoelstra from conversations with colleagues, both internally and externally, was “a very detailed plan coming into camp” and clarity about the system he wants to run in his first full season coaching former third-team All-NBA point guard Goran Dragic, who has said he wants the Heat to play faster.

It’s about putting together a team we feel has an opportunity to compete for a championship. Big expectations. That’s the way we like it.

Miami Heat head coach

“This team has to get the ball up the floor, get into our actions with decisiveness, clarity and pace,” Spoelstra said. “Whether that translates into us being in the top three of fast-break points, it may or may not. It will benefit us to play with pace, to get our players to our strengths. Playing with a slower, methodical pace probably doesn’t do that as efficiently.”

This roster is unique because “some of our perimeter players are better near the basket and in the paint,” Spoelstra said, “and some of our bigger players are better on the perimeter outside the paint. We are going to try to leverage those strengths.

“We will play some conventional basketball. … Other times, we’ll be able to use versatility and flexibility of our roster to play position-less. The practices and games will tell us. I’m very openminded going into this season with this roster.”

More than a year removed from LeBron James’ departure, Spoelstra said in a recent 790 The Ticket radio interview: “We feel 13 months later, after all the changes, we have a team the city can be proud of.”

That team will include a healthy Chris Bosh; Spoelstra said “we fully expect him to be cleared for contact for camp” after missing the final 28 games with blood clots in his lungs.

Spoelstra also said he would impose no playing time limitations on Dwyane Wade, who missed 20 games last season but only two because of knee issues.

Wade briefly considered leaving the Heat in a contract dispute, and Spoelstra said: “I can’t imagine coaching a Miami Heat team without Dwyane. … Dwyane has to be our leader. He has grown in that role and with new veteran players, everybody just naturally turns to Dwyane as the cornerstone of our franchise and they turn to [Bosh and Udonis Haslem]. I’m very pleased with his summer … where his peace of mind is right now.”

Spoelstra also was thrilled to add guard Gerald Green and power forward/center Amar’e Stoudemire.

“If you had told me a year ago we would have an opportunity to sign both those players, I would have said that’s not realistic,” Spoelstra said. “We recruited Amar’e in 2010 and were fans of his game back then. …

“Gerald Green is an explosive player. Those type of game-changing players are tough to find in this league. He has been very committed to get in great shape. I told him when we signed him, ‘You put on this jersey, there are different expectations.’ He loves the challenge of that.”

Spoelstra loves the pick-and-pop possibilities of a Bosh/Dragic pairing, the two players having not yet played together in a game. “That’s the combination we’ll probably have to work the least on,” he said.

He also said Dragic and Hassan Whiteside “can form a great connection from the point and center position.”

Though officials with other teams said the Heat explored trading Chris Andersen and Mario Chalmers this summer to lessen its luxury-tax burden, Spoelstra said: “We know what they can do versus the unknown. They know we care about them. They know it’s a business.”

Chalmers, a combo guard last season, will return to the backup point guard role, Spoelstra said.

Meannwhile, forward Josh McRoberts, limited to 17 games last season because of knee surgery, “is stronger than he’s ever been in a Miami Heat uniform. He will be cleared [for training camp] but we will be judicious about how much he does.”

Spoelstra summarized the 2015-16 mission in typical Heat terms: “It’s about putting together a team we feel has an opportunity to compete for a championship. Big expectations. That’s the way we like it.”

Barry Jackson: 305-376-3491, @flasportsbuzz

Related stories from Miami Herald