We like to criticize coaches. We like to ignore them as not really mattering. We like to take them for granted. We like to fire them.
What we don’t do enough is appreciate them when we should.
Erik Spoelstra is really, really good.
He was a natural for the job when promoted in 2008, he’s better now and he’ll be a rock for the Miami Heat long after franchise godfather Pat Riley retires. Oh, and Spoelstra didn’t need this winning streak to validate that as his team sought a 12th consecutive victory on Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
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Spoelstra, now 46 but ever-boyish, has resourcefully adapted to whatever he has been dealt. He inherited a 15-win team and took it to the playoffs. He navigated the egos of the Big 3 era. Now he has taken a roster of mostly spare parts and, after a rough half season, made the motor start to hum.
The man helped direct two NBA champions here, and yet this season in many ways is his best coaching job.
No coach has ever lost more talent than when Spoelstra watched LeBron James leave for Cleveland, gradually saw Chris Bosh slip from him for medical reasons, then saw franchise icon Dwyane Wade depart for Chicago.
He was left this season with the first Heat team since 1993 with an active 15-man roster that included zero players who had appeared in an NBA All-Star Game.
With injuries to young fixtures Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson and others, Spolestra has cobbled together lineups using 11 different starters, augmenting semi-stars Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic with what mostly is a collection of recycled castoffs.
Spo has helped draw the dormant potential from Dion Waiters and extracted impressive productivity from James Johnson. From a patchwork of a team that had a record of 11-30 at midseason came the first team to win 10-plus games in a row after starting that badly.
“I’m invigorated regardless of the record,” Spoelstra said.
The coach who once juggled the egos and demands of LeBron, Bosh and D-Wade has lately been winning by orchestrating a combination of Rodney McGruder, Wayne Ellington, Willie Reed, Luke Babbitt and Okaro White.
Ninety-three men in NBA history have been a head coach for at least 400 games. Among them Spoelstra is 11th for best regular-season winning percentage (.608) and sixth for best playoff winning percentage (.619).
As you look around at South Florida’s it’s sort of a golden era in Miami-area coaching.
I have no doubt the Dolphins with Adam Gase and Hurricanes football with Mark Richt are in excellent hands.
Butch Davis at FIU and Lane Kiffin at FAU have yet to work a game with their new schools, but at least credit two football programs in dire need of attention with making splash hires.
The Marlins are about to begin spring training with a second-year manager of solid stature in Don Mattingly.
UM basketball has great leaders in Jim Larrañaga and Katie Meier.
The Panthers’ premature, knee-jerk firing of Gerard Gallant was a plain mistake, a dissonant note, but, otherwise, South Florida’s biggest teams might be in the best collective shape they have ever enjoyed at the coaching level.
Spoelstra leads the way, the dean, the ninth-year coach who defers only to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich for current NBA seniority.
The Heat’s future is a fluid thing. As the Feb. 23 trade deadline looms is any player untouchable? Is Waiters worth re-signing? Will Winslow and Richardson pan out? Does Riley have one more whale hunt in him? What will the roster look like in a year or two?
The one surety for this franchise, the positive always in the pocket, is Spoelstra.