Living in Atlanta, I am accustomed to franchises not paying top dollar for championship caliber teams while enticing fans into thinking that they will be indulging in champagne while operating on a beer budget. The Hawks product has been entertaining, however, no one believes the Hawks will be winning a championship anytime soon.
Two years ago, the Miami Heat acquired three of the top ten players in the NBA: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. Instead of getting a top-tier coach to shape this elite talent into a championship team, Heat President Pat Riley decided to stick with former team videographer, Eric Spoelstra, as the team's head coach. That's like taking a 2012 Aston Martin to Jiffy Lube for service.
Spoelstra is clearly being outcoached by Doc Rivers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Having three stars on one team can certainly limit the ability to bring in additional talent because of salary cap restrictions. However, the one thing Coach Riley could have done was to hire an accomplished coach who would have the respect of the team. Spoelstra's salary is one of the lowest in the NBA at $2 million a year. His counterpart Doc Rivers is one of the highest at $7 million. Most times you get what you pay for.
Riley's own experience should have come into play. In 2006, he came out of retirement, replacing Stan Van Gundy in mid-season and led Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O'Neal's Heat team to the NBA championship. He realized then that a collection of stars responded better to a respected, veteran coach versus one with limited experience and no pedigree. After he stepped down, Riley allowed Spoelstra to assume the Heat's head coaching duties.
Spoelstra has no head coaching experience to draw off. His offensive sets lack imagination and he does not appear to have the ear of his team. His players lack discipline, in particular Dwayne Wade, who takes questionable shots with little fear pf getting benched. Their lack of effort also can be seen when they are slow to get back on defense. The pieces don't seem to fit in Miami, and there is no leader on the bench who can turn around their downward skid. LeBron will take the heat for the team's failure, but Riley needs to take the lion's share of the blame.
Glenn "Doc" Rivers is certainly hitting on all cylinders as a coach this series. He has fused individual talents into a core of players that believe in each other and believe in what they are doing. On the last weekend of the regular season, Boston played at Atlanta. Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen all remained in Boston resting for the playoffs.
The Celtics reserves played even with the Atlanta starters for most of the game, losing by five in the end. The Cs reserved looked like a capable team. Much of the credit has to go to the coaching job performed by Rivers. His team is chalked full of veterans, but there seem to be no egos or personal agendas. The Celtics, particularly Garnett and Rondo, seem to be locked in and focused.
It took Phil Jackson to turn Jordan's Bulls as well as the Shaq and Kobe Lakers into champions. Until the Heat discover their own Zen Master, there will be no titles coming out of South Beach.
The NBA playoffs have been very entertaining. Who can argue about a quality game being played every day of the week? Both conference finals have been odd as the favorites have lost three consecutive games and face elimination. After Thursday night, the final two teams may advance to the NBA Finals. The Celtics and Thunder, both playing at home, seem poised to move on while the Spurs and Heat will have to play their best basketball to survive.