The Case For Crowning Erik Spoelstra Coach of the Year


Erik Spoelstra is a candidate for the 2016-2017 coach of the year. It is an unpopular concept because to many, he should not be awarded when his team is below .500 and is fighting for a playoff spot.

This season, the Miami Heat came in with a roster that had just lost franchise hero Dwyane Wade and is in the midst of a bad break up with All-Star Power Forward Chris Bosh. Losing both players dealt a crushing blow to the franchise who were just one game away from the Eastern Conference finals last season. It was immediately evident that this team would not contend for the playoffs let alone compete for a championship.

The Heat lost nearly every veteran that was apart of the playoff run last season. Joe Johnson, who in his short tenure with Miami averaged 15 points per game, signed with the Utah Jazz. Luol Deng signed a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, Gerald Green returned to Boston, and of course, Dwyane Wade shocked the world and signed with the Chicago Bulls. Every expectation was for Miami to be a lottery team, and when the season started it was an obvious why.

Miami started the season with a roster filled with NBA journeymen, expiring contracts, and D-League players, nothing like the rosters they have had in the past. The Heat quickly fell to 11-30 as they were dealt losses and injuries.

The turning point of the season came January 17th with an impressive 109-103 victory over the Houston Rockets. It put Miami at 12-30 and nowhere near a playoff spot. The Heat would not lose another game until February 11th, rattling off 13 straight wins against both good and bad opponents. Since the streak ended, Miami is 20-4 and have the playoffs in reach.

Spoelstra has generated this turn around without his young small forward Justise Winslow, who is out for the season. Winslow is already considered as one of the best wing defenders in the NBA, but that did not prevent Miami from being ranked fifth in defensive efficiency. Coach Spo has also been able to get the most out of every player in his rotation

Dion Waiters, who was an afterthought in the NBA has turned it on this season. He is averaging 15.9 points, 4.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds for Miami this season after averaging just 9 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists last season. As of late, he has become their go-to guy to close out games. He has become a fan favorite this season especially after hitting this deep dagger to down the reigning Eastern Conference champs and his old team the Cavaliers.

Former first-round pick James Johnson has also made a tremendous turnaround both physically and in the box score this season. He lost 37 pounds and half of his body fat this season and believes that he is in the best shape of his life. It is evident that Johnson feels rejuvenated after being written off in Toronto. He has gone from averaging 5 points, 1 assists and 2 rebounds in his final season with the Raptors, to averaging 12, 3, and 4 this season while coming off the bench. Johnson said it the best when praising Miami, “The culture is real.”

Spoelstra deserves credit for turning this team around this season. For those that still doubt the coaching impact he has on players, let us take a look at the players mentioned earlier that have signed on with other teams. Johnson is averaging 8.5 points and 1.7 assists for the Jazz, Green is averaging 5.4 points and 0.8 assists for the Celtics, Deng is averaging 7.6 points and 1.3 assists for the Lakers. All their statistics went down in key categories, only Wade is averaging similar numbers to what he had in Miami.

It is uncommon for a team with a losing record to win coach of the year, the only person to ever win it with one was John Kerr who navigated the Bulls to the playoffs in their first season with a record of 33-48. Doc Rivers won it after leading Orlando to a record of 41-41 back in 2000. Spoelstra, on the other hand, has the chance to finish the season over .500 and seeded potentially 5-8 in the conference.

Heat president Pat Riley believes that his handpicked successor deserves the award. He had this to say while speaking at “A Family Affair” which is an annual gala for the team.

“It’s not surprising to me,”  “Everybody likes to sort of compartmentalize a coach’s career. The man has won two world championships. He’s been in more big, big games with a different team. There’s always challenges when you have great teams that are supposed to win. Everybody thinks that’s an easy ride. It may even be more of a difficult ride with all the things going on behind the scenes and dealing with superstars. And then there’s this kind of challenge in which I think he’s handled with great experience and by staying the course.”

“Erik has done a great job and whatever comes his way will come his way,” Riley said. “He’s a lot like me. The first time I got my Coach of the Year award I was embarrassed to go and get it because I got it with a team behind me of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, etc. That residual reward will come to [Spoelstra]. The ones that he has that are more important to him are the ones that he’s wearing on his fingers. 

“So, he deserves all the credit that he’s getting right now but he’s not liking it. He just wants to keep working and get this thing to where it should get to before you start patting people on the back and then sometime in April something might go the other way. Let’s finish the job and that’s what he’s about” via the Palm Beach Post

There is still work to be done with this Heat team before season’s end, but there is no doubt that if they are able to attain a spot in the playoffs and finish over .500, Spoelstra should be awarded this year’s Coach of the Year award.

About Kirshner Saintil

Editor and Contributor for NBALead. FAMU Alumnus, Sports enthusiast, avid Miami sports fan. Follow me on twitter @Kirsh_TLFO.

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