On the one hand, he is perhaps the luckiest man on the planet. His superstar guard, Dwyane Wade, had enough pull with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to form a superteam in South Beach. Really, a trained chimpanzee could probably coach the team to 55 wins, so Mr. Spoelstra’s .549 career winning percentage is about to go up quite a bit.
On the other hand, does Spoelstra have anything to gain?
The best-case scenario is a 73-win season and a dominant run through June that ends with the Larry O’Brien Trophy returning to Miami. If that happens, though, how much credit is given to Spoelstra? Topping the list of people attributed for the success will be Wade, James and Bosh, obviously. After that, there will be a bench player or two who did everything right all season.
Next would be Pat Riley. He was “the man behind the curtain” throughout this whole thing, right?
Then, I suppose, Spoelstra would be given credit for managing his superstars properly and simply not screwing everything up. I’m guessing, though, that he’d rather not have his legacy be defined as “the guy who simply didn’t screw everything up.”
That’s one lousy best-case scenario — especially with how bad the worst-case scenario could be.
Let’s say the Heat somehow start the season 4-6. It won’t be like the World Trade coming down again (as Wade sort of said), but it will not be good for anyone involved. And because you can’t fire the players, Spoelstra would have to be canned immediately.
And it’s not helping his case that Riley will be watching closely. When the LeBron-to-Miami rumors began to swirl this summer, everyone just sort of assumed that Riley would hop back in front of the bench and bring his championship resume with him. It made sense — if Riley could coach the Showtime Lakers in Los Angeles in the late ’80s, if he could coach in the country’s biggest market and lead the Knicks to a 223-105 record in four years and if he could coach the Miami Heat to a championship in ’06, doesn’t it only make sense for him to handle coaching duties this year?
Though Spoelstra will run the team this fall, that question will be asked after every loss, every questionable substitution and every mismanaged media session. Pat Riley is the man; Erik Spoelstra looks like he just graduated high school. While he may be a very fine coach, he will — fairly or unfairly — become the scapegoat should anything go wrong in Miami.
And if he wins? Well, he can put it on his resume, but everyone will just assume that he was only along for the ride.