Erik Spoelstra at the center of the Miami Heat’s turnaround

Erik Spoelstra has been one of the most underrated NBA coaches for years. Now leading a cocktail of discarded talent to playoff contention, he should be in the running for Coach of the Year.

The third-longest tenured coach in the NBA often utters the phrase:“Whatever it takes.”

That mantra has been epitomized during this Heat season and the team’s recent 13-1 streak. Erik Spoelstra has been dealt the most injured team in the league, as Greg Cote of the Miami Herald wrote, this is the first Heat team since 1993 to not include an NBA All-Star on the active 15-man roster.

But that hasn’t wavered Spoelstra’s confidence. This season, Spoelstra has gotten the most out of recycled or unproven talent like James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Rodney McGruder. He also has Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic realizing the best versions of their game.

Even before the recent hot streak, Spoelstra had the Heat playing hard and working to build a defensive identity every game. Despite a multitude of injuries and new lineups, the Heat have the sixth best defensive rating (106.3) in the NBA, according to Basketball Reference.

Their offense has come alive recently as well. In the last 14 games, the Heat have been 10th in offensive rating, third in defensive, and own the fourth-best net rating in the league, according to NBA.com.

You heard that right: according to one metric, this ragtag Miami Heat team has been the fourth best team in the league in the past month.

But don’t think that Spoelstra accepts the absurdity of the team’s recent success, because the veteran coach is seemingly never satisfied.

“We still have to get to another level or two or three”, Spoelstra recently told Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post.

“We constantly say that we have to focus on getting better, focus on our process every single day. You’re never as good as you think you are and never as bad as you think you are. We’ve made some improvement, but we still need to make some more.”

Sports interviews are full of clichés and it’s tough to know the true feelings on the other side of the microphone. But in the NBA media landscape, Spoelstra seems to be one of the most genuine.

He is truly never satisfied with where the team is at, even one that came in with such low expectations. It started with the defense, but the newly acquired players have developed chemistry and continuity and have started winning games.

And Spoelstra has been at the center of it all.

There’s no question coaches like Mike D’Antoni and Brad Stevens are more likely to win, but looking at recent Coach of the Year winners, the voters do give attention to coaches that outdo expectations.

In the past five years, Nuggets’ George Karl (2012-13) and Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer (2014-15) have won the award in such seasons. Those teams did finish near the top of their conference, but there’s precedence for situations similar to Spoelstra’s as well.

When the Warriors’ Steve Kerr won last year, Trail Blazers’ Terry Stotts – who led four new starters to the playoffs – finished second.

Spoelstra may not win the award, but if this Heat team makes the playoffs, he should finish near the top of most ballots.

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