Erik Spoelstra Q + A
The Heat coach is all business in South Beach.
by Chris Cason
It’s late August, a few days after a video makes its way to the internet featuring Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra putting LeBron James through a series of jump shooting drills.
The video is less than two minutes long, and, in viewing it, you get a chance to see glimpses of Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem and some of the coaching staff all putting in work.
Absent, are smiles on the faces of anyone in the practice facility. With a goal to not only dethrone that team in L.A. as league champs, but to make a run similar to that of the ’60s Boston Celtics, the mood is nothing but business.
Entering his third year as head coach, Spoelstra now has the a group fully capable of being the last team left standing in June, but he knows how this teams handles everything that will come at them off the court is just as important as the challenges they will face on a nightly basis will be essential to delivering.
SLAM: As a coach, explain how it feels to be in the situation you are in now, with having the collection of talent and also an almost new team?
Erik Spoelstra: It’s an opportunity that we’re all looking forward to. I’m extremely excited about the season coming up. When you have new players, I think the first thing is to get to know them as much as you can as quickly as you can. You can do that by two ways — by meeting with them, trying to develop a relationship and secondly, studying them. Not only myself but the entire staff has been watching a lot of film on all of the new players we’re bringing in to try and find out how to build a system that takes advantage of everybody’s strength.
SLAM: What are some of the challenges you see this team facing, especially with the increase in media exposure?
ES: We’ll certainly have a lot of peripheral distractions and in some instances, opponents. A lot of people will be looking for an angle to separate us and how we deal with those circumstances, how we develop a concept of team and how we grow together will be critical. I think, secondly, one of the challenges we’ll face is how we handle adversity and you can’t really predict or prepare for it, but it’s inevitable during the course of an NBA season that you will run into some adverse moments. I always felt that those are the moments that will either break you as a team or where you really take a forward step and go to another level. When things aren’t going well, people aren’t necessarily getting along and things are not working the way you want them to and that’s when you come together and collectively come up with a solution that really helps you improve and go to the next level.
We went through that last year. One of our toughest stretches we had during the season was the month of January. We had lot of adversity, injuries but more importantly, our schedule. It helped our toughness, particularly, our mental toughness. It helped us prepare for that run we had at the end of the year, where we had a nine-game win streak and won 12 of our last 13 games.
SLAM: Your message to the team last season was staying in the moment and living in the now, does that message change with this team or do you preach that even more so with this group?
ES: We understand what the goal is. Every single person, player and staff member knows exactly what we’re playing for. What’s really going to matter is the journey. The day-to-day details of trying to get better and that’s where staying in the moment, not getting ahead of ourselves will be important. To maintain our focus and a lot of detailed work on the court, off the court, schematic-wise, but also personality-wise, coming together and building a team; that takes time. It is a journey and 20 years from now, what you will remember will be those special moments along the way of the journey. There will be a process of developing this team and we can’t just jump ahead to the playoffs when we start training camp.
SLAM: How does it feel having the outside expectations to win now placed on a team that still hasn’t gotten the chance to prove itself yet?
ES: We’re not afraid of expectations. The thing about this organization — our owner Micky Arison and Pat Riley — is there has always been an expectation of playing for an NBA championship and that’s the culture they have created. We have lived under that and every single year we thought we would have a chance to compete for a championship, but it didn’t always turn out that way. We’re one, I think, of only seven teams in the last 20-25 years that has won an NBA Championship, so everybody is trying. It has always been our goal. We’re not going to run away from the expectations. We understand what the ultimate goal is and that hasn’t changed. We feel we have a terrific group to make a run at it, but what are important will be the process, the journey, the day-to-day details of trying to get better and trying to build a team that can win the championship when it counts in June.
SLAM: Having gone against LeBron and Chris for the past few seasons and trying to limit and take away some of the things they’ve done against you as opponents, how does it now feel to work with those guys to improve their overall game?
ES: That’s obviously the part of the challenge that our entire coaching staff is looking forward to. We acquire great players like that who are extremely motivated and you can see it in not only LeBron and Chris, but all of our other players. We have had virtually everybody who is under contract already here in August, working to get ready for this moment. People don’t want to not take advantage of it. So, the guys are ready and we’re looking forward to working with all the new players and incorporating a system that takes advantages of all of their strengths. Like we said, this is not something that happened overnight. This blueprint has been here, this organization has known about it for the last two and a half years and it finally came to fruition this July, but there has been a lot of work behind it to get to this point. We feel like we’re ready for this as a staff. I know the players have the correct mindset going into training camp and we’re just looking to the day that the season finally starts because it’s just been so much conjecture up to this point. I think everybody is just looking forward to the first day of training camp.
SLAM: Viewing this video with you working with LeBron, I can sense the mood and it’s a serious one. As a coach, how does that feel to have that kind of attitude already being shown before training camp?
ES: What we can control in the offseason and my challenge to everyone who flew out to meet with everybody or call them to start that conversation was to get in tune to the process. The first step of this process is to get in the very best condition of your professional lives. That was a challenge I had for everybody, to come into camp ready to go from the very first minute. That’s all that it’s been about, getting in shape, working with our coaches, working with the strength staff, getting in perfect shape, so we can have a productive training camp and again, that goes along the lines of not getting ahead of ourselves. That focus has to be on the first step and the conditioning is the first step right now.
SLAM: What is the atmosphere like down there in South Beach?
ES: Everybody is excited right now, but even for us, we have to stay in tune with the process. We went through our own internal celebration on July 9 and since then; it’s about getting to work and getting prepared for training camp and this seven-month journey. So, we’re not celebrating anymore. We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’re just trying to prepare for camp and that’s my job. Just to get guys in condition and ready for camp and once we start camp to implement the system and start the process of building a team that’s ready to win an NBA championship.