Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra sat down for a near two-hour interview with Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski for The Vertical’s podcast recently and covered a wide variety of topics including his future beyond coaching.
With team president Pat Riley, 72, revealing in an ESPN interview recently that he signed a five year-extension last year (one that now allows him to run the Heat from his home in Malibu, Calif.), Spoelstra, 46, was asked if he has interest in one day moving from the sideline and into the front office.
“The short answer would be [yes],” Spoelstra said. “I’m a Pat Riley disciple, and, like I said, he’s always pushed me and nurtured me for the next step. So, yes, I’d love to have that opportunity years down the line from the Arison family, because I believe in them so much as human beings. They're such good people and family oriented.
“But Pat, he’s going to go on, hopefully for a while,” Spoelstra continued. “I think he’s younger now than he was when he was coaching. And he’s such a visionary. The way things are set up right now, look, I want this to be the setup that it is right now.
“I feel involved. I’m in every meeting that’s important, that deals with the organization and personnel. It’s usually just four of us that get in a room, Pat, Nick [Arison], Andy [Elisburg] and myself. And if it really gets to a level, then Micky [Arison] will. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I don’t feel like I need more right now.”
A candidate for the NBA’s Coach of the Year award this season after guiding the Heat from a 11-30 start to a 41-41 finish, Spoelstra said his only focus right now is on coaching. The Heat missed the playoffs for only the second time in his nine years as coach.
“The value I want to bring right now is the culture of coaching and developing men and a team,” Spoelstra said. “I want to bring value to the organization from this chair. And I have enough on my hands right now, that that’s all I'm thinking about. And I think it’s important also to enjoy just this present moment of that, and not think about what’s ahead.
“My sister always says, ‘Focus on your own math,’ that I don’t have to be sped up because of other people are doing that. I can feel fine with this right now and be OK with it, because I do love it. I love the whole dynamic right now. I really do, truly hope this goes on like this, this dynamic for a long, long time.”
Spoelstra covered a variety of topics during the interview out in Santa Monica, Calif. including the Heat’s resilience after an 11-30 start; the organization’s decision not to tank; being on the court as a player the day Hank Gathers died; his professional playing career in Germany; the pressure of replacing Riley as the Heat’s coach; and his various experiences coaching the Big Three.
One thing is certain: Spoelstra has enjoyed coaching the Heat in large part because of the family-like culture Riley and the Arisons have created. He also spoke highly of how Riley has allowed him to grow on his own without casting a large shadow.
“One of the first things Pat told me [when I took over as coach] was ‘Hey this culture is always going to be here and we’ve created this. But ultimately, you’re going to be the head coach and you have to develop your own voice, your own system, and your own philosophy and your own culture that’s within this umbrella and get to it,’ ” Spoelstra said. “We started to put together a system – a system of player development, a system of offense, a system of defense, with an eye always to respect what was built before.”
Naturally, Spoelstra said, there’s been disagreements over the years “when you get into the competition.” But he says there’s always been great respect.
“We’ve gotten to know each other – all of us – when we’re at our worst and when we’re at our best,” Spoelstra said. “That’s what I love about this organziation. Because it’s not judgemental. Some of my best qualities are my worst qualities. That I can be incredibly stubborn and willful. But I always keep a hand on ultimate respect and to always balance that.
“We’ve had some great dialogue. We’ve had great battles and disagreements and I think that’s made me a better coach. We’ve had so many years of working together, working through those type of things it's pretty natural by now.”
Spoelstra said he’s always wanted players “to be able to tap into [Riley’s] experience and knowledge.”
“It would be crazy not to. I encourage players to go up there and talk to him,” Spoelstra said. “At first, they’re very hesitant. Pat always jokes about that with me. [He says] ‘Guys never come up to my office.’ [I told him] ‘Maybe lighten up the shades so it doesn’t look like they’re walking into see the Godfather. Now, guys feel a little bit more comfortable. We try to encourage guys to go up there because he always backs our voice and ultimately what our culture is. But when it comes to coaching and developing and trying to push a team, he leaves that up to us.”
▪ Spoelstra said it was “really cool to see” former assistant David Fizdale have the success he had this season in his first year as a head coach with Memphis. And yes, Spoelstra said, he did make sure to buy a ‘Take that for data’ t-shirt.
“[Heat assistant] coach [Octavio De La Grana] and I took a picture of [us wearing them] and sent it him to and the staff before Game 5,” Spoelstra said. “It didn’t work.”
“Fiz is a brother of mine,” Spoelstra contineud. “I feel we have three more [head] coaches on our bench right now. It’s been fun watching and enjoying their development. Dan Craig won a championship with a Sioux Falls team. Seeing that growth has been special. Juwan Howard, was a defacto captain for us [on our championship teams]. To see him take this step into coaching. He really works at it. Tha’'s been a joy to watch. Chris Quinn, my first year coaching was our coach on the floor as a backup point guard. Coach De La Grana behind our bench is really our culture coach that really brings everything together.
“We all feel we're all part of each other’s coaching paths and that we’re helping each other during these times. We’re trying to enjoy these moments as much as possible. These guys are all going to move on and be head coaches. It worked out almost perfectly in this scenario because Fiz is in the West. We only play each other twice and played each other on a back-to-back in November. I was able to enjoy the rest of his games the rest of the year and root for him and talk to him.”