Posted June 04, 2013

Is Heat coach Erik Spoelstra a surefire Hall of Famer?

2013 NBA Finals, Ben Golliver, Erik Spoelstra, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Tony Parker
(Issac Baldizon/Getty Images)

Erik Spoelstra’s (top) winning percentage in the playoffs (.639) ranks third all-time behind only Phil Jackson and Paul Westhead. (Issac Baldizon/Getty Images)

The list of surefire future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers in the 2013 Finals matchup between the Heat and Spurs is absurdly long: Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Manu Ginobili, Chris Bosh, Erik Spoelstra.

Wait, 42-year-old Erik Spoelstra? Seriously?

Yes, according to ESPN commentator and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, who said on a Finals conference call Tuesday that he believes the Heat’s young coach is destined for Springfield.

“Erik is still in the phase where he gets more blame for their losses than credit for their wins, but he’s going to the Hall of Fame,” Van Gundy said. “He’s that good. His even‑keel demeanor, his humility, I think helps him really get the most out of his best players and you know, it’s fun to watch his teams, fun to watch [Popovich's] teams. I just love the grace and humility both teams play with.”

Van Gundy sees Spoelstra’s postseason success over the last three seasons as only one part of his résumé.

“Erik to me has never gotten in his short time, the credit that he deserves, particularly those first two years [2008-09 and 2009-10] that he took over,” Van Gundy said. “He’s taken over in a pretty down period in Miami Heat basketball, and with [Udonis] Haslem and Wade, Wade obviously being his best player, but the cornerstone of Haslem, that they were able to win as much as they did the first two years showed his true greatness in coaching. And then how he’s done these last three years, now being in the Finals three consecutive years, and actually delivering more than ever could have been expected with James. To reach three consecutive Finals is an incredible feat.”

Is Van Gundy nuts in totally over-hyping Spoelstra or is he merely way ahead of the curve in giving the Heat coach his historical due?

The latter seems more accurate, although declaring any NBA coach is “going to the Hall of Fame” is a massive statement, if only because so few have actually made it there. Of the 88 inducted coaches (including the 2013 crop), less than one-quarter are recognized primarily for their work in the NBA. The short list of purely NBA coaching inductees is a who’s who list of giants: Red Auerbach, Chuck Daly, Phil Jackson, Jack Ramsay, Pat Riley, Jerry Sloan and Lenny Wilkins, among them. Longevity and championships, as you would expect, are the two top qualities among the coaches who made the cut.

Five seasons in, Spoelstra is simply out of his depth from a longevity standpoint. Everyone — even Van Gundy — can surely agree that this conversation is happening way too early. But his success to date definitely has him heading toward exclusive company.

His .660 winning percentage ranks sixth among coaches with at least five years of experience and his playoff winning percentage of .639 currently ranks third behind only Jackson and Paul Westhead. Should the Heat prevail over the Spurs, Spoelstra would become one of just 13 coaches to win at least two titles. What’s more, should the Heat win this year and next season, Spoelstra would become one of just six coaches to win at least three titles. Those six include five current Hall of Famers (Jackson, Auerbach, John Kundla, Riley and Daly) plus Popovich, who is surely destined for Springfield. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Big picture, Spoelstra’s youth arguably helps his Hall of Fame chances. It’s crazy to even type this, but he could legitimately coach for 25 more years. His 260 career regular-season wins currently place him tied for No. 69 all-time. Hypothetically speaking, if he were to go .500 over the next 25 years, coaching until he’s 67 (Jackson’s current age), he would be one of just three coaches (along with Don Nelson and Wilkens) to crack the 1,250 wins mark. The point here isn’t to predict that he will be able to stay employed and passionate about coaching for that long, but merely to point out that his ceiling is essentially limitless thanks to his immense success early in his career.

Some might argue that James looms over this conversation as a double-edged sword. The best player of his generation, James has the capacity to single-handedly make Spoelstra’s teams championship contenders while also possessing the potential to overshadow his coach’s contributions to their shared success. That said, guiding legends to titles worked out pretty well for Auerbach, Jackson and Riley when it came time to induct them.

The best analogy for 2013 Spoelstra might actually be 2005 Tony Parker. At just 22, Parker had two championships to his name with another decade-plus of basketball ahead of him. He hadn’t yet made an All-Star team and he was still, for all intents and purposes, firmly in Tim Duncan’s shadow. Eight years later, Parker has delivered on that early success, erasing any doubts and questions about his own place in history by winning another title, winning a Finals MVP and making five All-Star teams and three All-NBA teams.

“It’s really hard to go to the Finals, to win a championship, and for me personally, I was 21 when I won my first one, and you think it’s easy and you’re going to go back every year,” Parker said, after the Spurs eliminated the Grizzlies in the Western Conference finals. “In 2007 we won our third one in five years, and you think it’s going to keep coming, and I’m 25, and six years goes by, and every year it gets tougher and tougher. … If we go all the way [this year] it’ll definitely be my favorite because it gets harder and harder.”

That nonstop fight is what will face Spoelstra over the next decade (or two). This much is for sure: The uber-focused Spoelstra is the last person on Earth to spend a second of thought gauging his historical track. Consider his response when he was asked immediately after Monday’s Game 7 victory whether he had thought ahead to a matchup with the Spurs.

“When you’re in such a competitive series like this, you are so fully immersed, that it’s such a beautiful place to be, a Game 7,” he said. “It’s one of those few times in competitive team sports you’re not thinking about tomorrow, you’re not thinking about the previous games, you’re not thinking about what possibly may happen, you’re not thinking about the reward. All you’re thinking about is the desperation of that moment. That’s a great place to live. It probably hit me right about then, and it was the “Oh” type moment. We have to get our act together in the next 48 hours of doing our diligence.”

A guy who is so consumed by the task at hand that he isn’t thinking 48 hours ahead surely isn’t going to ponder what life will be like in 25 years, or what life will be like when he no longer has No. 6 to design systems around. Keep making progress, continue winning, and the recognition will take care of itself, the mantra goes.

Sure, this conversation is happening way too early, but it was going to happen sooner or later, especially if James continues to dominate the next 12 months as he’s dominated the last 12 months. Rarely do we see stars reach such peaks, and usually when it happens the key figures around them are rewarded, too.

Speaking of recognition, The Point Forward suggested that Spoelstra deserve consideration for a coaching position with USA Basketball. With assistant coaches Mike D’Antoni and Nate McMillan both departing, the timing would seem to be perfect, assuming Spoelstra is interested. A gold medal or two would look great on a Hall of Fame biography, right?

28 comments
dking
dking

Decisions Coaches can do: (imagine a technically unruly team)

1. Decides which player comes in and out of the court for the duration of the whole game. 

2. Decides the combination of 5 players in every given time period

3.  Call or not call a timeout

4. Assign or scout for prospective additional players to join his team roster

5. Suggest which players to be traded out of the team.

Now,  I give this suggestion without putting into perspective an individual players skill or obedience to a coach play, so that people can see that coach decisions matter. Imagine putting the wrong combination of players to face the other team or choosing one his player out and then later realizing that particular player should have stayed in the court. Imagine doing this every single game for the whole season and winning. Isn't that something?

Now items 4 and 5 are lot tougher decision to make but it is happening and you have stories that so and so team made the right to decision to include or remove this and this player in his team.

There is no luck in making this decisions just pure logic.

7erp
7erp

If he's a HOFer then they need to start erecting Doc Rivers' statue outside TD Garden as we speak.

geewhiz
geewhiz

Grace and humility the Heat play with?  GTFO Van Gundy, you have lost your damn mind.

vicente
vicente

i disagree that anyone can coach a bunch of "superfriends", there are other "superteams" in the nba. the lakers, the knicks, the clippers to name a few.

imagine if d'antoni or del negro or woodson or even the other two coaches in the conf finals vogel and hollins were coaching the heat, do you really think they'd be in the finals 3 years running?

lebron elevated his game to another level and still improving with spo at the helm albeit, after losing to dallas.

give spo the credit he deserves.

now, as a surefire hall of famer...

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

Prediction: Over the course of the Finals, Van Gundy will say every player, coach, and GM doesn't get the credit he deserves. He won't limit this to the Heat and Spurs. He'll also say that about Miami fans, San Antonio cuisine, Miami hotels, the Heat mascot, Spurs dancers, the general climate in both cities, the officials, the arena sponsors, Mike Breen's wardrobe, and the Spalding balls. 

Van Gundy: "Everyone and everything deserves more credit! There's simply not enough credit being given around!"  The rest of us are such terrible humans for not recognizing where credit is due! 

dctalk
dctalk

Way too early to even begin talking about Spoelstra as a Hall of Famer! But the biggest joke is that the article suggests that CHRIS BOSH is considered Hall of Fame material!

cord u
cord u

The same things everyone is criticizing Spoelstra for can be said for Phil Jackson. Eveything he accomplished he did with teams loaded -- teams that had some of the top-5 players of all time (Jordan, Pippen, Shaq, Kobe). Exactly what did he accomplish with lesser teams? Nothing -- 2nd-round playoff exits, to be exact.

ChicNStu
ChicNStu

ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FREAKING MIND. If he is a Hall Of Famer then the Hall has lost it's cred. The Hall is a place for the best of the best, the greats. Not good or okay but Great! Eric is a good coach with the best player in the NBA and you can't win or be great without great talent I don't care how good a coach you are. But Eric Spoelstra has done nothing yet to be mentioned among the greats like Phil Jackson, Red Archbach, Pat Riley, George Karl, Larry Brown to name a few. He is more K.C. Jones at this point a good coach of a ridiculously talented team.

.3
.3

NO NO NO absolutely not. If you're not winning multiple championships with a core of Wade, LeBron, Bosh, AND coaching advice from Pat Riley, there's something wrong. Put Spolestra on a team like the Bulls (without Rose) and see if he can take them anywhere.

acohn
acohn

not so sure Chris Bosh is a surefire HOF'er either.  While he could have the numbers by the time his career is over, he may also not have the numbers if his career continues to trend downwards as it has since he joined the Heat

joshua33nelson
joshua33nelson

Any halfway decent coach is winning with these 3 superstars.  Just coddle them and give them anything they want and BOOM, hall of fame?

Horstradamus
Horstradamus

Yeah.... way too early to tell. He may go .500 over the next 25 years, but he'll need Lebron and Lebron's son to do so. Coach's reputations materialize and disintegrate instantly every year.

David7
David7

Let's see if he can beat Greg Popovich first.

leehwgoc
leehwgoc

Pat Riley hand-picked Spoelstra.  That fact alone demands respect, and the hard-numbers since then have done nothing to argue against Riley's judgement, obviously.

However, a combination of jealous anti-Heat sentiment by lowest-common-denominator fans and -- although I hate to say it -- a knee-jerk inclination by said lowest-common-denominator to scoff at the notion of a Filipino-American being an elite NBA coach have worked against Spoelstra getting the acknowledgement he deserves.

riley8
riley8

The Heat waterboy is a surefire HOFer also if we are getting ridiculous.

FedorGaponenko
FedorGaponenko

Way to quick to say something like that. NBA is more of a players league rather than a coaches league, you have to prove it over a long period of time with different rosters before you're considered hall of fame worthy as a coach. 

Sidvicious
Sidvicious

Surefire hall of famer? He has one ring! What makes him a hall of famer and not Rick Carlisle, who also has just one?  No one considers carlisle because he isnt the coach of the Miami Heat.  The media bias regarding the Heat is just extraordinarily ridiculous, sometimes once respected organizations like ESPN feel like Fox News! Chris Bosh a surefire hall of famer?!?!? On what world is Chris Bosh a hall of famer? What would that mean to the hall, if one of the members was once nationally circumcised by Roy Hibbert!  There is a difference between being popular and being a hall of famer.  

Mark4
Mark4

Way too soon.  Let's see how he does on a team not stacked with The Superfriends.  Tune in after the Heat breakup in 2014.

MichaelHeck
MichaelHeck

@dctalk The greatest coaches had some of the greatest players. Spoelstra worked his way up from video editor to following Riley. While I agree with the suggestion regarding Chris Bosh, Spoelstra has done an overall excellent job of managing "down" years prior to coaching the mountainous egos he has on the his now. 

john0834
john0834

while there is some merit to your statement, i have to disagree. Michael Jordan had Scotty Pippen on his team for 2 years while playing for Phil Collins, but it wasnt until Phil Jackson came along and righted the ship. Relatively the same core of players (Michael, Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, John Paxson) while playing under Collins, but it wasnt until Jordan matured under Phil that they started to win championships.
Shaq had played with a great player (at the time) Anfernee Hardaway and made it to the finals twice, but could never win it. It wasnt until he was traded to the Lakers (and they drafted Kobe, obviously a great player) and was able to learn from Phil Jackson that Shaq won any championships. He was surrounded by great players, but it was the coach that put him over the top.
Lebron was never srrounded by elite talent until he signed with Miami. It is this fact that has changed Lebron's legacy thus far, not the coach. Can you really say Spolstra has elevated Lebron James's game? Do you think that if any schmoe off the street were coaching the Heat they would be that much different? Spolstra has not shown anything in his gameplanning that has made him stand out from any other coach Lebron has had.

In the end I think you can say Phil deserved so much credit for his ability to take star players (and big egos, MJ, Shaq, Kobe) and mold them into championship winners, you cannot say the same for Spoltra - he is just along for the ride.

Ericfollowedbyanumber
Ericfollowedbyanumber

@leehwgoc It doesn't matter who picked Spoelstra. He's going to have to work against the assumptions of everyone who see the talent on his team and think anyone could coach it to the NBA Finals. Cleveland got to the Finals with LeBron...was that coach a Hall of Famer?

Regarding your other comment--I assumed Spoelstra was Dutch.

David7
David7

@leehwgoc Really?  You had to bring race into it?  No one cares as long as he is a winner.

Sidvicious
Sidvicious

@Mark4 he would be just another coach if it wasnt for lebron and his superbitch friends.

vicente
vicente

If you think any schmoe of the street can coach the heat, just imagine them being coached by mike d'antoni (or mike brown or frank vogel or vinnie del negro) and then tell me if you think they'd be playing in the finals right now

JonathanD
JonathanD

@Sidvicious @Mark4 And you know that based on....

His fellow coaches in the NBA certainly don't appear to agree with you.

vicente
vicente

@john0834 just remember,mike brown's cleveland team lost 4-0 in the finals against the spurs, lebron did not improve his game the 7 years he was under brown's coaching (ala dwight howard is still without a reliable post move) brown coached the lakers with kobe, a future hall of famer like lebron, with lacklustre result and was fired. 

i agree with you, pop will test his skills a s a coach. but judging  by how he dismantled frank vogel coached pacers team game 3, 5 and 7, he'll have a few MORE tricks up his sleeve.

john0834
john0834

@vicente Mike Brown coached Lebron to the finals with less of a team. So following your logic I do. We will see in the finals if Spolstra has anything up his sleave, as Popovich is going to test his skills.