Posted by: mdegeorge | November 29, 2010

Plenty of frustration to go around on South Beach

If ESPN’s headline writers are to be believed, then Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is “frustrating [the] Heat”.

Nowhere in the article though, is there mention of the multi-millionaire superstar troupe underperforming and “frustrating” their fan base.

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade (3), forward LeBron James (6), and forward Chris Bosh take a break during a time out in the second half of the opening night game against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on October 26, 2010.  UPI/Matthew Healey Photo via Newscom

After all, it was Spoelstra who failed to frustrate Paul Millsap when he went off for 46 points in the Jazz victory in South Beach. It was Spoelstra who was primarily responsible for allowing Rajon Rondo two games of 16+ assists, both Celtics victories. And it’s Spoelstra failing to produce offensively that has the Heat floundering with a 9-8 record, the sixth seed in the East, and perhaps more telling, a 1-7 record against teams currently in the top eight of the Eastern and Western Conferences.

In the latest exercise at deflecting responsibility, it looks as though Spoelstra’s head is the one closest to the chopping block after less than 20 games at the helm of the South Beach All-Stars.

His alleged crimes? Reprimanding Lebron James in practice and questioning his seriousness, a wholly outlandish action for the coach charged with rousing a sleeping and underperforming giant.

Spoelstra has also launched “bump-gate”, the intense and utterly ludicrous scrutiny of the bump exchanged by the third-year coach and James during a timeout in their loss at Dallas, which was their fourth in five games (shockingly, defeats of the Sixers still count towards the win total).

All the reports presented by ESPN have come from anonymous sources. To his credit, Spoelstra has vowed to ignore these specious accounts of the issue in a shocking bout of accountability:

If it’s an unnamed source, I have no comment about that. That could come from anywhere. I think the guys in our locker room are pure about what we need to get done and to improve and that’s all I’ll comment on. Anything else is really just speculation.

The Heat’s sluggish start to the season dispels the notion that any old idiot could pilot this team to 70 wins. The sheer talent of the starting triumvirate of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh doesn’t look so daunting in the face a cohesive starting five and the presence of just one basketball to go around.

We’ve seen in the past that there are levels of proficiency in managing teams. Joe Torre proved time and again to be a poor manager of xs and os; just ask fans in St. Louis and Queens. But he was amazingly adept at getting the big personalities in the Yankees’ clubhouse to mesh into a solid unit that brought the best out of each of the team’s parts.

At this juncture, Spoelstra hasn’t shown that ability. But to place the blame slowly in his hands is keeping with the theme of not holding athletes responsible for their on-court shortcomings. Spoelstra isn’t the reason his team ranks so low in hustle statistics like steals (20th) or assists (21). He’s not diagramming plays in which one of his superstars is supposed to go to the hoop by himself with reckless disregard for his teammates. He’s not teaching in practice that his defenders shouldn’t be active in the passing lanes trying to create turnovers.

Spoelstra isn’t the reason why this team is failing in these fundamental areas. Part of it is that they’re so beholden to those three mammoth contracts that the supporting cast will be sparse until they luck into a quality draft pick a la Rondo (as evidenced by the yesteryear all-star contingent of Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire, Juwan Howard, and Jerry Stackhouse). Spoelstra might not be the best motivator in the world, but if you need added impetus to bring your A-game as part of one of the biggest basketball experiments in recent history, then maybe it’s the players who are at fault.

And that, as Spoelstra probably knows, is quite frustrating.

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