Erik Spoelstra's Extension Shows That Continuity Counts for the Miami Heat
Erik Spoelstra should have been gone.
That's what some in the national media argued. That's what some websites—such as the infamous FireSpo.com—screamed.
Spoelstra could have been gone.
That's what even he has told associates, as he's reflected on three pressure points in his tenure as Miami Heat coach: the summer of 2010, when the Heat were aggressively recruiting free agents; the second month of the 2010-11 season, when they started 9-8; and the summer of 2011, after they fell flat in the final three games of the NBA Finals.
But that's not how the Heat have operated under owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley, a period that extends back to 1994 and has seen so many of the same people stick around, even if they're now stuck with several more pounds and a few more silver strands of hair.
They backed Spoelstra in ways that other organizations wouldn't have, and he has rewarded their faith with two championships. Now, they have finalized what seemed a foregone conclusion, announcing Sunday an extension that will keep Spoelstra from becoming the NBA's hottest free-agent coach after this season.
The Heat, as is their custom, refrained from offering numerical specifics, in terms of years and salary. But they don't really matter, any more than it's mattered that Riley has tended to conceal his own contractual details.
What matters is that Spoelstra knows he can continue to shape the team without concern for his future status. What matters is that the Heat's prominent potential free agents—including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh—know that he's in charge, not just this season, but into the future, beyond their upcoming opportunities to opt out of their contract.
While James, Wade and Bosh have all each had some bumpy moments with Spoelstra, they've all also experienced a payoff, and Spoelstra's presence at James' wedding was another sign of the evolution of their relationship.
As training camp opens this week, don't expect Spoelstra to enjoy discussing this subject, if he addresses it at all. It's not his style. While he has become increasingly confident in what he offers, he has also downplayed his role, laughing off situations in which others still confuse Riley for the team's coach and stating simply, "My job is to land the plane."
Now, he'll have that job at least two more seasons. If Gregg Popovich retires during that time, Spoelstra will become the current longest-tenured coach with a single team.
It all calls to mind something Spoelstra often said, away from the cameras, during that turbulent first season with the so-called "Big Three." He said that he could keep everything in perspective by reminding himself that in 25 years he would be able to say he coached this team, these all-time great players.
He'll still be able to do so.
And chances are, he'll still be standing on the Heat sideline when he says it.
Ethan Skolnick covers the Heat for Bleacher Report.
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