The NBA playoffs are far from over, and even though the Miami Heat surprisingly trail the Indiana Pacers 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals, they still have a chance to turn things around. Unless the Heat ultimately win the NBA championship this season, though, head coach Erik Spoelstra has to go.
Spoelstra has been Miami's head coach since 2008, and while he has guided the Heat to the playoffs every season, expectations are much higher than that. On a team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, an NBA championship is essentially a must, and falling short this year would be Spoelstra's second failure in as many years.
There is no question that Spoelstra seems like a nice enough guy with solid acumen in terms of Xs and Os, but a superstar-laden team like the Heat needs much more than that. The likes of James, Wade and Bosh are perfectly capable of executing any game plan, but they don't seem to get a ton of guidance or motivation from the 41-year-old Spoelstra.
Truth be told, it's tough to blame Miami's trio of stars for not exactly buying into Spoelstra. Compared to some of the other coaches in the league, his pedigree isn't overly impressive. He was a fringe collegiate player at the University of Portland and started as a video coordinator for the Heat.
That may mean that he is great at breaking down tape and using technology to create game plans, but he seems to be lacking when it comes to the coaching intangibles.
That is where Pat Riley comes in. The 67-year-old Riley is currently an executive for the Heat, but he is one of the all-time great coaches in NBA history as well.
When you consider how much James, Wade and Bosh have accomplished over the course of their respective careers, they probably aren't in awe of somebody's resume too often. Riley has won five NBA championships as a head coach and one as a player, though, so he has a track record that those players have to respect.
There have always been warning signs that the Big Three don't respect Spoelstra, and that came to a head on Thursday night. With the Heat losing their grip on Game 3 and Wade struggling through the worst playoff game of his career, he snapped at Spoelstra on the sidelines and started a heated exchange that had to be diffused by other Heat players.
Wade probably felt like he had a right to get in Spoelstra's face because, in a basketball sense, Wade is a more accomplished individual.
Wade wouldn't dare think of doing something similar to Riley, though. Riley has been through every battle and accomplished everything possible in the NBA, including leading Wade and the Heat to an NBA championship in 2006.
Perhaps Riley isn't in tune to the new style of NBA coaching like Spoelstra, but Riley knows what it takes to win and he knows how to handle superstar personalities. He did it with the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks and he has done it in the past with the Heat as well, so anything less than a title this season absolutely must lead to Riley's return to the bench.
Riley very well may be happy in his retirement from coaching, but it would be a shame to see such a talented team continue to struggle on the big stage because of a lack of proper leadership.
Riley is the perfect coach for this team, so it's time for Spoelstra to prove he can get the job done, or else his days in Miami may be numbered.
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