Heat's Erik Spolestra talks about the 'special season'
What Erik Spoelstra had to say today in his season-ending news conference Monday:
• Asked if he wants this group to largely stay together, he said: “There’s a long way until this summer. I think it’s OK to still reflect and embrace how unique this season was. So often, all of us fall prey to what’s next and what is the future and you’re not able to enjoy and be present. I learned a lot from this season and one of those things is to really be present which has allowed all of us to enjoy this experience together.
Our organization is not going to change. We are hard-wired to play and compete for championships. It’s the most difficult thing you can do in this profession. But that doesn’t mean every other season is lost and that there isn’t something meaningful from those seasons. Our guys will be able to understand that.
“Hopefully this is dot, dot, dot continued and we can build on this. But all those discussions are literally months away.”
He said this team can be a championship-caliber team.
“We feel this group yes [can be championship caliber team].”
• Spoelstra said locker stalls would not be deconstructed, even for free agents. Their jerseys and gear will remain in place, with the hope they will come to the arena to work out.
“It’s different from how we used to do it,” Spoelstra said. “This is clean up day, not clean out day. Lockers are still going to be there. Free agency is going to happen. A lot of our players are going to have free agent possibilities or opportunities in July, but that’s July.... We’re going to continue to encourage our guys to get better and continue to work to get better and build on this. We’re not taking down their lockers or nametags or shipping all their gear. Practice gear, shoes will be there and hopefully guys will be working out with us after a few weeks.”
• Spoelstra captured the season eloquently: “It’s one of those great tragedies that you watch or read, the ones that are the classics, you remember them, they imprint some kind of emotion out of you. A ton of adversity, against all odds, and don’t end the way you want it to. But the imprint is still there. A lot of the adversities we went through made it who we were, especially the last few weeks.
“One of the mentally tough teams I’ve been around. The classic undeducated narrative would be, ‘God, if you just won the New York game.’ That’s so lazy, that narrative. ‘If you had just gotten the Orlando game. Any of the games you’re supposed to win.’
“For the people in the business, it never works out that way. We got a lot of tough road wins that maybe if you’re playing those game, you aren’t check marking that, saying that’s a win.... There are always surprise virtually every single night. That’s why Vegas makes a ton of money. Nobody knows. I don’t think our guys should have any regret. The games people say we should have won, it’s not like we didn’t compete. We just got beat. That’s the nature of the game.”
• “You have to be able to enjoy and celebrate mini-victories. Only one team finishes the season with a win. Everybody else at some point is disappointed with that final loss.”
• On these players: “A group that came together as strangers really came together and developed a sense of community, of team. It became a season that we’ll remember. There are some seasons that don’t necessarily imprint on your mind.... We’ll see each other years from now along the NBA road in NBA circles and be able to have that bond. That’s special. That was created by being pushed to the brink. Being able to handle adversity. Get to know each other when the circumstances aren’t great and form a stronger bond from that.
“Our group can walk proudly through our city. This city really embraced this team. The way this team competed and played with an honor is something Heat nation could really relate to and respond to in a positive way. Some of the feedback that everyone of the players have gotten the last few days, and staff, including myself, has been one of pride, of a city feeling pride about the way the team competed and played for each other.”
• On Justise Winslow, who was limited to 18 games because of shoulder surgery: “Justise coming off the summer that he had. If was able able to play a full season, not just the shoulder injury but the wrist injury coming out of preseason, would have had a major impact on this team. I thought he had a terrific summer, along with J-Rich. Everybody you talk to coming out of Orlando, they were two of the top players coming out of the Summer League. People were really commenting, ‘they followed up an impressive rookie year with a great summer league. Not good, but great summer league.
“And then a full summer of development. Both were ready to make that next jump. And both got hurt, unfortunately. I haven’t forgotten the potential and what we can build on this summer. Justise brings a tremendous amount of versatility, of defense, of toughness, of winning plays, of things we emphasize. Justise fills in a lot of those intangible gaps; he knows how to impact winning. That certainly could have made an impact.”
Spoelstra said Winslow is “way ahead of schedule” in his recovery from January shoulder surgery, though he is not yet cleared for contact work.
• But can Winslow be a three and D player? “Yes and he can create that game. People get caught up in so much of the wrong narrative. We are not trying to develop Justise Winslow to become Chris Mullin. Totally different basketball player. If you want to talk about three-and-D, one thing he can do is impact defensively and take away threes because of his ability to defend one through five and that’s unique in this league.
“He can generate threes for you offensively because he puts a lot of pressure in the paint, off the dribble, in transition. He’s an aggressive, bruising, physical type of player and he sees the floor. That helps create your three-point game.
I don’t want the focus on how many threes he makes. He will make enough. He is dedicated enough to work on them. It will be about getting into world class shape, getting healthy so he can make all the plays he needs that impact and help your team win. It will be my job to put him in spots where he can be efficient and find small victories and build on those right away. I thought we would have. Particularly if he didn’t have the wrist injury, he would have been an efficient offensive player. It might have looked differently than people would have wanted it to be.
“He will find a way to help your team. We would have found a way to put him into his strengths and build on some of the weaknesses. His weaknesses, whatever the perceived ones are, will not be our focus this summer. It will be his strengths and being in world class upper echelon shape and health will be the priority.”
• On James Johnson: “It’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve seen in my coaching tenure, see somebody that had been kicked around and had dreams and didn’t necessarily know the path to become the player he always envisioned he wanted to become and had the potential to become. The timing was right. It was a great fit for us and a great fit for him.
“Ultimately, why we’re in this profession is we’re here to help players chase their dreams. We find the most gratification when we’re serving. We were able to help him get on the right track, but ultimately it was him.”
• Has Hassan Whiteside become the franchise player?
“He has an opportunity to be one of the greats in this league. That’s what our franchise needs from him. The growth he has made the last three years has been staggering..... It really is staggering, his improvement. Why should we put a ceiling on him? He’s such a lightning rod for attention. He impacted winning more than he ever has.
“He can be a dominant impact player next year but he has a lot of work to do this summer. He’s not afraid of working, not afraid of putting in the time. If he continues on this track, who knows where he can go? He had a lot of tough love teachable moments the first couple years. He can be as good as he commits and wants to be. It’s exciting for Heat Nation, exciting for this franchise.”
What the next frontier for him? “His ability to post up efficiently within the context of an offense and make the right reads and have a consistent go-to move down there will require sweat equity, putting in the time in the gym, which he’s not afraid to do. World class conditioning and shape, that’s where he was at the end of the year. You look at him and he looks like a freak of nature.”
• On Goran Dragic, and how he meshed with Dion Waiters: “It was a beautiful thing to see. We didn’t necessarily know where that backcourt would evolve to, but to see the music they made together, which is better than what either one of them could do by themselves, was really cool to see. Goran, seeing his growth. He has always been a player that just wanted to impact the game with his force of nature and with his will to win. This was in my mind his career best year. It was his most efficient year.
“He was our most consistent driving force throughout each month. His leadership really grew out of necessity this year. He was so uncomfortable doing it but he saw this group needed it. He became more vocal, not only led by example but with his voice, held guys accountable, did things he didn’t ever imagine he would be required to do . To see that kind of growth has been awesome to see.
He’s a much different player now than the way he used to be. The way he competes defensively, he’s a guy we can put on 1, 2, 3. Rarely is there a situation where OK, we’re not putting put him on a guy for X, Y or Z reason. He embraced our defensive culture. He has become a more than reliable two way player. He’s not someone you’re trying to hide because of his toughness, his length, his willingness to compete and his willingness to buy into a system. That’s been cool to see.”
• On Dion: “I put him in the same category as James. The timing was again right for a player that had been kicked around, never felt he was maximized to where he could be. An environment we felt could bring something different. I am not saying we do it better than anybody. It was a great fit. If we are able to build on that, you will see continued growth.
“I definitely wouldn’t want to put a ceiling on him. It was a joy to be around him and coach him. It was little bit disappointing he wasn’t able to get 75 plus games. We would have had a better chance, for all of us, to see what he’s capable of.”
Can he become even more efficient? “Why not. To be able to chase that championship trophy, that requires so much. That would be a necessity [to continue to improve his efficiency].”
• On Rodney McGruder: “Rodney will be as relentless as anybody has ever been in our building. He will continue to evolve his game as he has. His ability to put the ball on the floor and make plays is something we tried to utilize at the end of the year. His three-point spacing already has dramatically improved in his three summers with the Heat. I remember watching him in his first summer league three years ago. We liked his competitiveness but he was a non-shooter at that time. He willed it. If there was a 10,000 hour rule, he broke the doors off that one. He will be a knock-down shooter by next year.”
• On Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson: “That might be one of the most disappointing things of this season was not to be able to see J-Rich and Justise healthy in training camp. They were both ready with earned confidence from those hours in our building. You will see great improvement again. Tyler [Johnson] same thing.
“Tyler has really played effectively two years in this league. He has three years in our system. To be able to do that, to be one of the top five reserve scorers [in the NBA] and be somebody who is absolutely a two-way player. The way he defends is unique, one through three, but to be able to have that kind of jump.”