Around NBA: Do the Miami Heat Need to Fire Erik Spoelstra and Hire a Real Coach?

Buckus ToothnailContributor IIIMarch 4, 2011

BOSTON - FEBRUARY 13:  Coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat reacts when an official failed to call a foul against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on February 13, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics won 85-82. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/ Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The answer is a resounding YES.

The Miami Heat need a new coach. That is not debatable anymore.

Ever since the beginning of the season, coach Erik Spoelstra had been placed under the magnifying glass after the team signed unrestricted free agents LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh over the summer.

After fumbling toward a 9-8 record to start the season, many people had called for Spoelstra's sacking, and with less-than-glowing support he received from his three superstars including Dwyane Wade, who's had a relationship with him since entering the NBA, many felt that Spoelstra's job was doomed.

His job was saved however when the Heat made a nice turnaround and won 20 of its next 21 games, until a devastating loss to the Los Angeles Clippers also caused an injury to James, their unofficial "best player", and the Heat went through another rough patch when Wade and Bosh also faced injuries.

Since LeBron's return, and with the team back to being healthy, the Heat have continued their winning ways, and even captured the Eastern Conference lead for a second time this season. Like their first time, however, they were unable to hold onto it and the Celtics are again the leading team in the East.

But the most troubling concern for the Heat is that they have not been able to put away big games against good opponents, despite often building an early lead.

That was evident when the Heat faced the New York Knicks earlier this week. 

Having acquired former Denver Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony the previous week, the Knicks were still adjusting their new line-up, having lost in the trade Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton, and having added Chauncey Billups along with Melo.

Despite winning against the woeful Milwaukee Bucks in Madison Square Garden in Melo's Knicks debut, the team then went on to lose their next game to the Cleveland Cavaliers, owners of the record for the longest losing streak in NBA history and arguably the worst team ever.

This marked the second straight time the Knicks had lost to the Cavs, giving the team the dubious distinction of being the only team to have been defeated by Cleveland twice this season.

When the Knicks played the Heat the next game in Miami, however, instead of putting away the game in the second half, the Heat let the Knicks back in the game late in the fourth quarter. A Knicks run was capped by Billups taking a long three-pointer in Wade's face and making it, giving the Knicks the lead with only a minute to go which they would hold on for a five point win.

As if to prove that the win was more about the Heat's inability to put away opponents down the stretch than New York's growing prowess, the Knicks went ahead and lost their very next game at the Orlando Magic two nights later.

Coincidentally, the Heat also faced the Magic as their next opponent after their game against the Knicks. Playing in Miami, the Heat built a seemingly insurmountable 24 point lead in the third quarter and many observers believed the game was all but over.

Instead, the Magic went on a 40-9 run in the next 15 minutes to take the lead and eventually win the game by three points, 99-96.

Needless to say, the third quarter meltdown should have never happened and was entirely preventable. The key was that James and Wade, who were scoring the majority of the team's points in the first half, had cooled down. Basically, the Magic's coaching staff had figured out a way for the team to defend them. 

Rather than respond with some moves and strategy of his own, coach Spoelstra had no response whatsoever. And rather than taking more timeouts in an effort to stem the Magic's comeback, drawing up plays and making adjustments, Spoelstra was content on throwing his team under the bus with little direction and have them suffer one of the worst and most embarrassing comeback losses in the team's history.

Now it would be one thing if this was a rare slip-up by the coach and the team. But the reality is that this is now the Heat's third loss in four games, with all three losses being decided late in the fourth quarter.

In last week's game in Chicago, the Bulls made a similar run in the third quarter against the Heat to turn a nine point deficit to a four point lead.

The Heat were able to come back and take a four point lead of their own in the fourth quarter, but like their games against the Knicks and the Magic they were unable to sustain it.

Similar to how Billups popped a three-pointer in Wade's face to give his Knicks the lead late in the fourth quarter, the Bulls' Luol Deng also made a shot from behind the arc in Wade's mug to give his team the lead with just 16 seconds to go and the eventual win.

The common thread between all three losses, besides the fact that all three were to Eastern Conference teams bound for the playoffs, is that with proper coaching the Heat could have won all three games.

Spoelstra simply did not have the goods to be able to draw up good plays, call for effective substitutions and make the right adjustments to win the games.

In each situation, he was badly out coached by the opponent, whether it was the Bulls' Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks' Mike D'Antoni or the Magic's Stan Van Gundy.

Spoelstra's coaching strategy seems to be just letting James and Wade dominate the games, with little needed contributions from the rest of the team. In fact, rarely are any plays drawn up by the Heat coach not with Wade or James as the numero uno option.

The problem with this game plan is against the elite teams of the league, this strategy will backfire because these teams know how to contain LeBron and Dwyane.

And when Wade and James are unable to score, that's when the Heat's opponents take advantage to go on their runs.

It would be a mistake to somehow blame the rest of the Heat team. The rest of the team do have talent, including obviously Bosh, Mike Miller and James Jones, who are great shooters especially from beyond the arc, and now the new addition of Mike Bibby, who is known to hit clutch shots.

It's simply Spoelstra does not have the coaching talent to utilize the rest of his starters and bench in clutch situations.

Beyond offense, Spoelstra is also failing on the defensive end. Despite fashioning himself as a "defensive-minded coach" in the image of his mentor, Pat Riley, it has been the lack of strong team defense that's been losing games for the Heat.

In all three of the recent losses to the Bulls, the Knicks and the Magic, the Heat have been unable to defend the three-point shot, especially late in the fourth quarter.

It was big-time fourth quarter three-pointers by Deng and Billups that won the games for the Bulls and the Knicks, and it was the plethora of three-points by the Magic, which outshot the Heat 16-3 for a plus 39 difference from behind the arc, that won the game for Orlando.

It's time for the Heat organization to face the truth; the Spoelstra experiment is a failure. While the rags-to-riches tale of the former video coordinator who made good and became head coach is a good story for the media, the reality is that he's not a coach that can lead the team to the championship.

And the Miami Heat have too much to lose. With the signing of James and Bosh to play along Wade along with a solid supporting cast, the Heat have all the pieces they need to win a championship, and their play this season is proof of that. Just like their recent close losses are proof that they won't make it far in the playoffs with Spoelstra guiding the team.

Like when the Los Angeles Lakers signed free agent Shaquille O'Neal and traded for rookie Kobe Bryant in 1996 and failed to make the NBA Finals for three years while the team was coached by Del Harris, the Miami Heat are in the same predicament. The pieces are there, just not the coach.

And just like when the Lakers replaced Del Harris with Phil Jackson and not only won the NBA title his first year as head coach, but the first of three consecutive championships, the Heat have a chance for their own dynasty once they replace Spoelstra with a head coach of a higher caliber.

Let's face it, Erik Spoelstra has simply got to GO.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, "Why Chauncey Billups, Not Carmelo Anthony, Is the New King of New York"

And looking ahead at a possible Finals match-up, "Tony Parker: Why His Injury Means Los Angeles Lakers Will Face a Harder Playoffs"


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