Eric Spoelstra might be the second happiest person in the NBA after LeBron James right now.
When the Miami Heat sealed the deal against the Oklahoma City Thunder and won their second NBA title in seven years, Spoelstra essentially secured his job for at least one more year.
But something feels strange about calling Spoelstra a championship head coach even after he helped “lead” Miami to a title. It’s awfully difficult giving credit to a man who had the world’s best player in LeBron James leading the team night in and night out. It also didn’t hurt to have Chris Bosh and Shane Battier playing unbelievable basketball down the stretch. And even if Dwyane Wade struggled at times, he’s still Dwyane Wade.
Spoelstra had come under plenty of scrutiny from fans and media for numerous reasons. Some said he wasn’t too savvy at making in-game adjustments and others remarked about his inability to be a leader in the locker room. It’s fair to look at body language from players toward their coach during games and assume that he didn’t exactly have the respect from his team’s players. Spoelstra also never played in the NBA. Just from that, some players could put little value in what Spoelstra has to say, especially in trying times, because Eric never played the game.
Even if these notions are true, Spoelstra is a champion today, will be for tomorrow, and for the rest of his life. He’ll be back again next year and Pat Riley has had his back throughout the whole time.
That being said, he’s sort of a faux champion. It’s nothing against Spoelstra. It has to do more with the fact that seemingly any other coach in the NBA could have won with this team. Spoelstra was nowhere near the team’s biggest asset.
In fact, with a better coach they probably could’ve finished with the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA and perhaps even be more dominant in the playoffs.
Previous champions from recent years had great, respected coaches who gave their team an advantage in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers had the legendary Phil Jackson, the San Antonio Spurs had the ever-so consistent Gregg Popovich, the Boston Celtics had the shrewd and motivational Doc Rivers, and last year’s Dallas Mavericks team had the underrated Rick Carlisle.
Some people actually love to rail on Jackson because of the fact that he had superstars like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Shaquille O’Neal for all 11 of his rings.
However, it’s important to note that dealing with egos like that in big markets like Chicago and Los Angeles is unbelievably difficult. Jordan was not an easy guy to deal with. He had a beef with management back then and it was Jackson’s job to mitigate the tension.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Kobe and Shaq feuded all the time but that didn’t matter. Phil won rings and he won a lot of them.
And finally, just by looking at Andrew Bynum’s antics this season, from defiantly shooting three-pointers to cursing during multiple live interviews, it becomes pretty clear how instrumental Jackson was in taming the seven-footer during his days there.
Spoelstra, on the other hand, was once intentionally bumped by LeBron James after a timeout last season when he was walking to the bench. No one would ever think about doing that to Phil.
Spoelstra did do a better job this season in attaining some respect from the players. The best part about Spoelstra is his ability to play damage control with the media this year. A year after he said that there was an unidentified player crying in the locker room, Spoelstra changed it up this year and always defended his players during rough times. If there were problems, he made sure the media didn’t know about it to blow it out of proportion
Even though he has a ring now, most people don’t look at Spoelstra as an elite head coach. It’s easier to look at him as a man who piggy-backed his way to a title. If LeBron James doesn’t take over the NBA Finals, Spoelstra doesn’t have a job next year.
Even with a title, Spoelstra’s job is unsafe. The Big Three didn’t come to Miami to just win one ring. They want to start a dynasty and they definitely can with the talent surrounding the team.
However, it remains to be seen whether Eric Spoelstra is going to be the man leading the way as the years go by. He’s earned a shot at a second consecutive title and if the Heat win again next year, perhaps he will show that he is actually an elite coach.
But until then, he must take the backseat and tell LeBron how appreciative he is for helping him keep his job.