NBA

Is Miami Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Overrated or Underrated?

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Vincent Frank
Written by Vincent Frank

Erik Spoelstra began his Miami Heat career as a video coordinator back in 1995 at the age of 24. He lasted two years in that role before being promoted to assistant coach, a position that Spoelstra held until he was promoted to head coach in 2008. Needless to say, he lives Miami Heat basketball.

Since taking over as Miami’s head coach in 2008, Spoelstra has led it to playoff appearances in all six seasons, three consecutive NBA Finals appearances and two consecutive NBA championships. He’s now on the verge of doing something that very few head coaches have ever done…lead a team to the NBA Finals in four consecutive seasons (via SB Nation).

Since Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics went to 10 straight Finals, only two teams have made it to the championship round four seasons in a row. Those two teams were Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers from 1982-85 and Larry Bird’s Celtics from 1984-87.

That’s some amazing company right there. If Spoelstra is able to lead the Heat to a third consecutive championship, he would be joining some elite company. A list that includes only Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach and John Kundla.

Among active head coaches, Spoelstra’s .660 winning percentage ranks second to only Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.

So why ask if he’s overrated? After all, the head coach is on the verge of doing something very few have done before him. It’s simple. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh get the most credit for Miami’s success since the trio teamed up four years ago in South Beach. Before that, Spoelstra was on the hot seat multiple times.

According to this ESPN report back in 2010, players on the Heat wanted Spoelstra gone. 

The Miami Heat’s players are frustrated with Erik Spoelstra and some are questioning whether he is the right coach for their team, according to people close to the situation. With the ballyhooed Heat losing four of their past five games and sporting a mediocre 9-8 record, the players are privately grumbling about Spoelstra on several fronts.

Looking back at this report, it’s absolutely amazing that players who are currently among the most successful in the recent history of the league wanted Spoelstra gone. But remember, this is a team that failed to win a championship in the first year of the Big Three and was close to losing in the NBA Finals last season. Despite the success, all of the credit, and probably for good measure, has gone to the players on the court.

In order to get a gauge of where some are on whether Spoelstra is overrated or underrated, I took to social media. Interestingly enough, a majority of the responses were favorable to Spoelstra.

This last point is the most interesting. It isn’t an easy task to take three of the biggest stars in the NBA and have them buy into the system. The ego’s are real in Miami, but each of the big three decided to put team and franchise before self. That wouldn’t have been possible without a strong leader in the bench. As we have seen in the NBA and other professional sports leagues, that rarely happens.

Yet another good point here. He doesn’t keep the Heat players on a tight leash. Instead, Spoelstra allows them to do their thing on the court while reining them in when needed. Again, it’s all about finding a happy medium.

Adapting to change is also important. Spoelstra realized after the Heat’s first bout in the NBA Finals that what he was doing in terms of strategy might not have been working. Instead of sticking to what wasn’t necessarily working, he decided to put a lot of the decision-making process on the players, taking away some of the sets that had bogged down the offense the season prior.

Of course, this question wasn’t answered with all positives as it relates to Spoelstra.

That is a decent point, and one that I made earlier. If Spoelstra was indeed underrated, why was he nearly be thrown to the wolves a couple times in the past? In the end, Spoelstra simply cannot be overrated because of the success he has had in the past. He can, however, be underrated simply because the nature of the NBA is to give the players, not the coaches, the credit for the product on the court.

If Miami does indeed win a third straight championship next month, maybe Spoelstra will receive more of the credit than he did in the past. After all, three straight NBA titles would be historical and he’s the man that has made it work from the bench.

Photo: Jeremy Brevard, USA Today

About the author

Vincent Frank

Vincent Frank

Editor-at-large, Sportsnaut.

“You were born with wings, why prefer to crawl through life?” Rumi