Ask a hundred Heat fans what they think about head coach Erik Spoelstra, and you’ll get one hundred different answers. Some will praise him as the next Phil Jackson while others call him Pat Riley’s puppet. As in most cases of two extremes, the answer likely lies somewhere in between, but this year will decide to what side he leans most.
Spoelstra hasn’t ever had a chance to show the NBA just what caliber coach he is. His first two years as the ringleader in Miami displayed some promising signs as he achieved back to back playoff births with painfully mediocre rosters. The next four years of course were an entirely different animal as one of basketball’s best Big 3’s ever came together, and won two out of four straight finals trips. Few coaches can boast such a successful span of years on their resume, but Heat fans were still left wanting more. They saw a coach able to avoid underachieving with a great roster, but they never saw Spoelstra become the true alpha dog. Spoelstra never orchestrated an impressive streak or game or series that left NBA fans going “this man is elite, he is truly great”. Instead most of the Heat’s successes and failures was attributed to the legend of Lebron James, the knees of Dwayne Wade, and the jurassic roars of Chris Bosh. Last year after losing the King, the Heat were struck with some of the worst luck in the NBA. The entire lineup was a revolving door all year as a brutal streak of injuries manifested themselves, leading to a losing record and disappointing response to Lebron’s return home. We are left with plenty of reasons and excuses for Miami’s successes and failures under Spoelstra’s seven year tenure, but despite his longevity, he still hasn’t truly proven anything. That’s why this season is crucial.
This is the year for Spoelstra. This is his chance to prove his worth, to show he’s king of the hill. Miami has a good roster capable of traversing deep into the playoffs with an outside shot at a finals berth. This is a solid but not transcendent roster. Spoelstra must make it great. He must elevate from good to great. He must show he can engineer his own success. So far, the Heat are off to a solid albeit unremarkable start at 2-1. It’ll be fascinating to see if Spoelstra can live up to expectations this season, and if he doesn’t live up to them… How Riley will handle it.