With a series of sharp, shrewd decisions, Erik Spoelstra has repeatedly made teams pay this postseason.
Now, the Heat likely will need to pay Spoelstra — at least more than what most professional coaches earn.
Spoelstra reportedly has one year remaining on his contract and appears positioned to receive a lucrative extension, potentially this offseason, after guiding the Heat to its sixth Finals appearance in his 15 seasons as the team’s head coach.
Monty Williams’ recent six-year, $78 million deal to coach the Detroit Pistons — a contract that averages $13 million per season — is “going to significantly impact the head coaching landscape for high-level coaches, including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Golden State’s Steve Kerr,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said this week.
“Both of those coaches have one year left, next season, on their deals. Both [are]... in the $8 million annual range right now. Both coaches, when you talk to owners and executives around the league, if they were on the open market, might be able to get what [new Denver Broncos coach] Sean Payton got: in the neighborhood of $20 million per year.”
Per Sportico.com, nine NFL coaches earn at least $10 million per season: New England’s Bill Belichick ($20 million), Payton (between $17 million and $20 million, with reports varying), Seattle’s Pete Carroll ($15 million), the Rams’ Sean McVay ($14 million), Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin ($12.5 million), Kansas City’s Andy Reid and Baltimore’s John Harbaugh ($12 million apiece) and San Francisco’s Kyle Shanahan and the Raiders’ Josh McDaniels ($10 million apiece).
Sportico reports that Spoelstra is the fourth highest-paid NBA coach, behind Williams (who was hired by Detroit last week after being fired by Phoenix), San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich ($11.5 million) and Kerr.
The NBA and NFL have salary caps, but only for players — not coaches.
In guiding a No. 8 seed to the NBA Finals, Spoelstra has repeatedly made smart decisions throughout this postseason.
“Coach Spo, having been here and having a storied and decorated career, it’s a beautiful thing to have him on that sideline,” Heat forward Kevin Love said after Miami’s Game 2 win in Denver that tied the NBA Finals heading into Game 3 on Wednesday in Miami (8:30 p.m., ABC).
“That trust works both ways with us. It’s a beautiful thing. You look over there during timeouts, halftime, pregame, prep, all that stuff is a 10 out of 10 with our coaching staff and Coach Spo.”
Among Spoelstra’s best moves during the Heat’s playoff run:
▪ Shuffling Love in and out of the starting lineup.
After a blowout loss to Milwaukee in Game 2 of the first round, Spoelstra replaced Duncan Robinson with Love in the starting lineup — in an attempt to counter Milwaukee’s frontcourt size — and the Heat then went 10-4 with Love starting before Spoelstra replaced him with Caleb Martin in Game 6 of the Celtics series after Boston downsized.
The Heat narrowly lost Game 6, but won Game 7 in Boston with Martin thriving as a starter.
Then, after losing Game 1 of the Finals in Denver, Spoelstra went back to Love in the starting lineup in Game 2, and the Heat outscored the Nuggets by 18 points in his 22 minutes on the court.
▪ Making timely use of zone defenses.
The Heat’s zone flummoxed the Bucks, Knicks and Celtics during various points of their playoff series, and caused Denver to become disjointed during the Heat’s 15-2 run to start the fourth quarter of Game 2.
This hasn’t happened by accident. The Heat had plenty of zone reps ahead of the playoffs, setting a modern-day NBA record for the most zone possessions played in a regular season this season.
And the Heat’s zone has been better than its man defense in the playoffs. Miami has allowed 0.92 points per possession on 284 possessions of zone this postseason, compared to one point per possession on 1,515 possessions of man this postseason, according to Synergy Sports.
▪ Knowing the right time to use double-teams.
Spoelstra’s decision to send a second defender toward Boston’s Jason Tatum contributed significantly to Tatum committing six turnovers, while not hitting a shot from the field, during the fourth quarter of Miami’s wins in Boston in Games 1 and 2.
His decision to reduce double-teams on Nikola Jokic in Game 2 against Denver limited his impact as a passer. Jokic had four assists, and Denver has lost nine games in a row when he has that few assists.
▪ Leveraging the unique skill set of Heat All-Star center Bam Adebayo, who has anchored all of the Heat’s defensive schemes from switching to drop to zone.
The Heat has allowed 109.9 points per 100 possessions with Adebayo on the court in the playoffs (a number that’s equivalent to the NBA’s best regular-season defense). With Adebayo off the court, the Heat has allowed 113.1 points per 100 possessions (equivalent to the NBA’s 10th-best regular-season defense).
Then there’s the adjustment Spoelstra made to have Adebayo play as a facilitator on the perimeter in the Heat’s series-clinching win over the Bucks in Game 5 of the first round. The move helped bring Bucks rim protector Brook Lopez out of the paint, and Adebayo finished with a game-high 10 assists.
▪ Making tweaks to a Heat offense that struggled last postseason, leaning more into pick-and-rolls and isolations this season.
The results weren’t always pretty. The Heat closed the regular season with the NBA’s sixth-worst offensive rating (112.3 points scored per 100 possessions) and fourth-worst team three-point percentage (34.4 percent).
But the subtle changes to the Heat’s offense have paid off in the playoffs. Miami has the league’s fifth-best offensive rating (115.9 points scored per 100 possessions) and top team three-point percentage (39.2 percent) this postseason.
▪ Reinserting Robinson in the rotation — and giving some minutes to Haywood Highsmith — after injuries to Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo. Robinson is shooting 44 percent on three-pointers in the playoffs, and Highsmith has made key contributions in several games.
“Spoelstra is the best coach in the NBA in my mind,” ESPN’s Tim Legler said. “Spo empowers people, really gets the most out of role players because he makes them feel confident in who they are. I just can’t say enough about who he is.”
ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins said Spoelstra — who stands fifth on the NBA’s all-time postseason win list with 109 — “had the perfect game plan defensively” in Game 2 against Denver. “He made the necessary adjustments and mixed things up as far as blitzing Jamal Murray at times, starting Butler on Murray.”
And Perkins mentioned Spoelstra’s offensive system as something that goes overlooked:
“The way they played with pace in the halfcourt, the way guys were cutting to gett guys open shots, the misdirection plays they played with, we underrate what the Heat does offensively. They do a really good job of it.”