"I'm not going to say he's my guy, but he's my coach, you know."-- Dwyane Wade, 11/29/10
Erik Spoelstra is under siege, facing a barrage of attacks from LeBron James and anonymous sources who think King James and Co. shouldn't have to work so hard for their millions. As Spoelstra stands in front of this sniper assault, he does so without Dwyane Wade, his longtime ally who has coldly chosen this moment to cast loyalty to the wind.
Wade, if you remember, was once Spoelstra's fiercest advocate. For years, the two learned the league together; Wade, a kamikaze guard out of Marquette with raw and unharnessed talent, and Spoelstra, a baby-faced workaholic who clawed his way out of Miami's video room and onto Pat Riley's bench.
They bonded over a shared, unbending commitment to win: Wade, the star, willing to sacrifice his body for success, and Spoelstra, the student, who often went days without seeing glimpses of sunlight as he worked tirelessly to give his team an edge to win. When Wade lost confidence in his shooting stroke in 2004, it was Spoelstra who showed up early and stayed late to help Wade hone his balance and smooth out his release. When Spoelstra was elevated to head coach in 2008, Wade was there to offer his ringing endorsement.
Now, in Spoelstra's time of need, Wade has gone silent. One month into a six-year experiment of teaming with LeBron and Chris Bosh, Wade has joined the masses, choosing to shove blame for Miami's lackluster start on the coach's lap rather than accept it as his own.
The offense is too simple, too predictable? Please. Miami's offense is sputtering, sure, but it's not because of the system. It's because Wade, a basketball alpha male, can't find a way to play effectively off the ball. Neither can Bosh. And the next time a play breaks down, take a closer look at who was the one who called it.
"A lot of times LeBron will call his own play," an advance scout said. "And when it doesn't work, he will look at the bench like it's the coach's fault."
Spoelstra cracks the whip? Coaches of underachieving teams do that. Granted, Spoelstra doesn't have the jewelry of Riley or Phil Jackson, but his credentials are solid. Last season, the Heat won 47 games with a lame-duck roster and one player (Wade) carrying the load. A .500 record with that group would have been cause for celebration. What Spoelstra did was squeeze water out of a rock.
His peers know it. Hell, Riley knows it. For years, rival executives have been trying to pry Spoelstra away only to be told by Riley that he was off limits. Spoelstra has been groomed for this situation. He's ready for this. Riley isn't going to wake up one day and decide Spoelstra can't coach. Not after handing him an incomplete roster that doesn't rebound or stop point guards from probing the paint. Not on the word of players who have griped publicly about playing 40-plus minutes and who would prefer to play a game less than prepared if it means working up only a light sweat in practice. Riley doesn't want this mess. If he does, it won't be long before he sees Spoelstra on someone else's sideline.
What Riley should do is support Spoelstra publicly. And Wade should follow suit. Grueling practices and tough love are nothing new to Wade. He has seen the benefits of such tactics, and if he forgets, there is a diamond-encrusted reminder on his ring finger. If the options are backing Spoelstra or supporting cohorts with flimsy playoff résumés who have known nothing but coaches who have bent to their every whim, then that decision shouldn't be a tough one.
Miami is Wade's team, Wade's town. He has asked everyone to believe it, to believe he can lead this team to great heights. This is his chance to prove it.