MIAMI — Heat coach Erik Spoelstra looked relaxed Thursday, as if he took the summer off.
Quite the contrary.
Not long after Miami won last season’s NBA championship, Spoelstra started plotting the best way for the Heat to win another. So he sought input from other coaches, like Florida’s Billy Donovan, who won back-to-back NCAA titles; Cincinnati football coach and close friend Butch Jones; Oregon women’s coach Paul Westhead, an offensive guru; and Vance Walberg, who developed the dribble drive motion offense.
A few he communicated with indirectly, like Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells. Oh, and he works for Pat Riley, who knows a bit about title defenses.
Spoelstra’s summer mission was simple: Keep learning. And whatever he gleaned over those months starts going on display Saturday when the Heat open training camp, the formal start to a year where they will be widely expected to contend for another title.
“I heard Bill Gates say it once. He said, ‘Success is a horrible teacher,’ ” Spoelstra said Thursday, sitting not far from his office near the practice court. “My interpretation is that sometimes you forget the process and everything it took and the failures to get to that point. It’s not the event. I think it’s easier for a coach. You live in a constant state of uneasiness.”
Case in point: About a week ago, his back started hurting. So he sought out the team trainer, Jay Sabol, for assistance. Sabol asked what Spoelstra did wrong, and the coach had no answer. His workout regimen hadn’t changed much, and he hadn’t slipped or fallen or anything that might have caused an injury.
Then it hit him. The stress of a new season might be manifesting itself already.
“This is how I felt last year in training camp, this is how I felt during the playoffs last year,” Spoelstra said. “Your body kind of tells you when training camp is right around the corner.”
Spoelstra spoke with reporters for more than 30 minutes Thursday, and when the subject was related to motivation, he cited the Heat loss to Dallas in 2011 NBA Finals more than he talked about how his team beat Oklahoma City for last season’s title.
There’s no denying that Spoelstra will insist that the Heat keep their edge, even after how their last official act together was celebrating a championship.
“It’s not easy,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not. People talk about it. It’s harder to repeat. It’s hard to win a title in any professional sport. There’s so many variables. You have to have your health first, you have to have talent, you have to have everybody on the same page and you have to be peaking at the right time. And you certainly have to develop enough resolve and resiliency to weather the storms and the tough times.”
While this would hardly qualify as a true “storm” like Spoelstra referred to, the Heat aren’t perfect in the health department to open camp.
Neither Dwyane Wade (knee surgery) nor Mike Miller (back rehabilitation) is 100 percent, meaning they’ll be at least mildly limited. Free agent signee Ray Allen, formerly of the rival Boston Celtics, isn’t totally recovered from ankle surgery, though Spoelstra said someone “wouldn’t know it” if they saw him play. Former Georgia Tech star Chris Bosh said the abdominal injury suffered in the playoff run is “behind him.” Roster hopeful Jarvis Varnado has a hamstring problem, though could be full-go by next week.
In all, 12 of the 15 players on the roster at the end of last season will be in camp on Saturday. The three exceptions – Ronny Turiaf signed with the Clippers, while Eddy Curry and Juwan Howard were not re-signed, though Spoelstra said Thursday that the team might be open to revisiting with Howard down the road. The Heat completed their 20-man training camp roster Thursday, signing Robert Dozier and Rodney Carney.
Much like Donovan, Jones, Westhead, Walberg and the rest, another coach who made an impact on Spoelstra over the summer was former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who he got to know while watching a football practice at Oregon more than a year ago.
Dungy was a keynote speaker at Donovan’s coaching clinic, and talked about how he respected both Spoelstra’s journey and how the Heat do business. There are parallels – until Dungy won a title, he faced plenty of scrutiny and heard tons of whispers that he wasn’t good enough to win a championship. And Spoelstra heard much of the same, until last June.
“For him to say that in front of a group of my peers in coaching, it’s pretty cool,” Spoelstra said.
He laughed off the notion that all the scrutiny he’s faced goes away now, saying Riley – his boss for nearly two decades – has prepped him well.
“You think it’s going to change? I doubt it,” Spoelstra said. “I’d probably be uncomfortable if my world changed. I’ve gotten so used to it now, it’s easy to find motivation in my world. And as a head coach, it doesn’t change. Come on. I’ve worked for 17 years for the guy who has taught me about paranoia of trap doors.”