March 8 (UPI) -- He has slammed the door on cynics who gave him all of the credit of an empty suit coaching rosters loaded with All-NBA talent.
The 46-year-old is already in his 22nd year with the franchise. His ascension is akin to a Sopranos-esque genealogy. A 20-something video coordinator was hired and quickly rose to an assistant coach/video coordinator. He jumped to an assistant coach/advanced scout and then to an assistant coach/director of scouting. He was named the Heat's sixth head coach in franchise history in 2008.
During his first two seasons, he led the Heat to third place finishes in the Eastern Conference's Southeast Division. Then came that fateful summer when his franchise acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
We all know what followed.
But lost in that was the respect for the unheralded. Behind the full-court alley-oops and championship confetti showers remained one man extremely dedicated to his craft. Spoelstra became the real 'King' of practicality, even when fans and foes felt that there was only room for one member of a royal court on South Florida's hardwood heaven. Never too high or too low. Always coming back into the arena with a new lesson and perspective. It's that stoic attitude that seeps down from the top of the franchise through the floor drains of AmericanAirlines Arena.
Since 2006, no other NBA franchise has more titles than the Heat.
The clichés fall out of his pockets, like any coach. But it's his laser focus that keeps the verbiage virtuous. His collaged cast believes.
"You're never as good as you think you are and you're never as bad as you think you are," Spoelstra always says.
But this year there is no Bosh, Wade, or James. A 'Big Three Era' has given way to embracing the Heat's brilliant player development system.
But the 2016 season didn't start out that way, at least as far as what the wins column read. The Heat pushed out to the second-worst record in the NBA [11-30]. Even more, the team has battled without Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Josh McRoberts for extended time.
That adversity and record was the perfect stage for Spoelstra's philosophy: the Heat wasn't as bad as it thought it was.
An NBA-best 13-game winning streak spoke to that point. The Heat entered Wednesday just 1 ½ games back of the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls for the No. 7 and No. 8 spots in the conference. A playoffs matchup against James' top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers is a real possibility. The Heat could compete even then, after decking the Cavaliers in consecutive games.
Spoelstra is now a Coach of the Year candidate, an award he never sniffed during the Heat's run to four consecutive NBA Finals appearances. He received the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month Award for February.
He responded in typical fashion, saying the award made him feel "awkward."
Spoelstra certainly isn't uncomfortable when expressing his gratitude to the franchise that lined him up with a sensational career. His adult life has almost always smoldered with Heat. He's even married to a former Heat dancer.
"It's an incredible organization," he said Wednesday. "I think it's a model right up there with any of the other top organizations in any sport. We are a championship organization, but the fact that there has been so much stability for so long, that's what makes it so unique. That is why we all feel so grateful and blessed to be a part of something like this."
Spoelstra owns a 429-275 record coaching the Heat. He has been an integral component in the majority of the franchise's 1,200 wins.
"You can count on it," he said. "It doesn't guarantee anything, but it certainly makes it much more enjoyable to be a part of something like this. People you can trust."
His squad this year is loaded with former D-Leaguers. Dion Waiters has led a boastful barrage to inject minor-league talent with big-league swagger.
But Goran Dragic is really the only player with a defined pedigree. The Heat's on-the-floor roster includes mostly cast-off names looking to reverse reputations or those it developed from within.
The biggest difference during this stretch is their three-point game," Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Wednesday. "Like anything else it all starts with penetration. In watching them, I would say Dragic and Waiters [are their two best penetrators]. They have a lot of different ways that they score. They're a great cutting team. They have the [Hassan] Whiteside factor with his duck-ins, his rolls to the basket. They shoot threes and when you watch them just like most teams, with the exception of [Wayne] Ellington, it's with spot ups. They get spot ups because the ball is being driven into the paint. There are other guys too, but it's mainly those two."
Dragic's 20.2 points per game pace the Heat [30-34]. Whiteside turned his huge offseason payday into a nightly double-double, posting 16.6 points and 14.1 rebounds per game this season. Waiters has made fans reminisce about Wade with his confidence and execution on the court. His shimmies and shouts are mimicked by fans throughout the stands, excited to be watching its gritty and pride-driven squad. He's playing the best basketball of his career, posting 15.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game.
Unconventional was a common theme for several of Spoelstra's more notorious teams. This one is no different. He has a Midas-touch-way of turning spare parts into versatility. A negative into a positive. An "as bad" into an "as good."
"I like the versatility that our roster has," Spoelstra said Wednesday. "That is how we play anyway. Different guys handle. Different guys initiate and get us into offense. Different guys generating attacks and looks for us offensively..."
"The more unconventional we are, i think it helps us."