SUNDAY BUZZ COLUMN
The intensity amps up for the Heat when the playoffs begin next weekend, and though Erik Spoelstra has a lot to keep his head spinning, at least he no longer will need to worry about motivating his players after the drudgery of a largely insignificant regular season. Players aiming for a three-peat don’t need Knute Rockne speeches once the playoffs start.
“Spo did a great job of keeping us motivated,” Dwyane Wade said, though Miami didn’t always look especially engaged.
There have been multiple thorny issues for Spoelstra this season: Trying to extract better defense from a team that declined greatly in that regard until the past three weeks…. Tinkering with a lineup that has been without Wade for more than one-third of the season….
Trying to keep his men intently focused on his message, even with Chris Bosh admitting that players already have heard Spoelstra say “about 75 percent” of what he tells them. And “the other 25 percent will be current events. He talked about Nelson Mandela, for example.”
Therein lies one of the challenges for long-tenured coaches, with Spoelstra tied for second with Dallas’ Rick Carlisle among active head coaches in tenure with his team, behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich. But Spoelstra feels no need to keep his message fresh when addressing players: “Whatever point we need to make, we make it.”
What keeps players listening when they’ve heard the message before? “Winning,” Shane Battier said. “Want your players to tune you out? Lose a few.”
Bosh admits Spoelstra’s message “gets repetitive, but we have to hear it. Sometimes it gets old, but we say, ‘Hey man, he's right.’ So we have to meet him halfway.”
Let’s be clear: Players respect Spoelstra and his flexibility and X’s and O’s acumen and appreciate his willingness to genuinely listen to their suggestions. Two championships have firmly established their trust in him.
But they still get amused by his repetitive use of terms they affectionately call Spoisms. At last check, 229 people were following a “Spoisms” Twitter account.
“It's rare they don't amuse guys,” Battier said. “It's rare they don't elicit laughter at some point.”
"It's a grind,” Bosh said. “I’ve heard that about a hundred thousand times. And then we start saying it….
“And ‘It’s part of the process’ -- that's another one. He says, ‘You guys are going to kill me for saying it but….’… ‘Sacrifice’ is another one. We may joke about it, but it's got a heavy dose of truth and we try to listen to it."
Battier’s favorite? “Burn a calorie. That means you're not working hard enough.”
Wade’s favorite? “’Embrace the moment’ and ‘We’ve got to own it.’ And ‘Do not let go of the rope’ is funny.”
Wade said Spoisms are “cool at first and then at the end of the year, you're like, 'I know what he's going to say now.' But he's consistent to who he is.”
After a while, players even start sounding like him. What's the first thing LeBron James told Sun Sports' Jason Jackson after beating the Pacers Friday? "It's all about the process!" Ah yes, another Spoism.
There are several things Spoelstra has done this season that his players appreciate: from scheduling fewer practices (“Spo giving us all this rest; it helps us all,” LeBron said), to allowing his stars to suggest late-game play calls, to drawing up a new package for Wade to get him more involved offensively during a time in February when he felt mostly like a facilitator.
Why the willingness to take his players’ suggestions more than some other coaches do? “Desperation to win,” Spoelstra said, smiling.
“With this group we’ve gotten to a point where it’s whatever it takes. It took a lot of failures to get to that point, to figure out what works. We’ve been through enough disappointments that it has forced us all to look inward. More player-to-coach, coach-to-player and player-to-player input was better for this team.”
Spoelstra also has shown flexibility with his rotation, and his decision to re-insert Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis has paid dividends in recent weeks.
Spoelstra remains big on self-improvement. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to meet with football coaches during the summer,” he said.
“I met with [Eagles coach] Chip Kelly, [Seahawks coach] Pete Carroll and [University of Tennessee coach] Butch Jones to dig deeper into managing personalities and leadership and motivation. I've found it incredibly valuable.”
What’s struck Roger Mason (before he was cut) and Toney Douglas is that Spoelstra doesn’t have different rules for his stars.
“Spo holds everyone accountable –-- LeBron, D-Wade. If something is wrong, he will tell them and that’s good,” Douglas said.
Mason liked how Spoelstra pushes and “challenges” his stars, in front of everyone. Mason recalled a speech earlier this season about the team’s defense, when Spoelstra implored LeBron: ‘Listen, you can be Defensive Player of the Year!’”
The motivational aspect of Spoelstra’s job becomes far easier next weekend, but the strategic elements do not, especially if his team is not at full strength. (Miami is still hopeful it will be.)
But Spoelstra’s willingness to adapt remains one of his greatest strengths, from inserting Mike Miller in the starting lineup midway through last year’s Finals, to taking Haslem out of mothballs in March. “He’s analytical,” Battier said. “He thinks the game.”
One continuing challenge: Scripting creative late-game plays that the Heat hasn’t used very often. James expressed frustration that he didn’t take the last shot in the March 26 Indiana and Minnesota games.
### With Sunday's win against Oklahoma City, Indiana needs only a win on Wednesday in Orlando or one Heat loss to clinch the No. 1 seed. The Heat appears likely to be the No. 2 seed and play either Charlotte (the current No. 7 seed) or Washington in the first round, beginning next Saturday or Sunday.
### Besides using some of their 30 allotted non-local draft visits on offensive linemen, the Dolphins booked Mississippi receiver Donte Moncrief (a potential second-rounder) and speedy Rice cornerback Phillip Gaines (possible third-rounder) to come to Davie to meet with team officials. Gaines visited this past week, according to a source.
Here's what CBS draft analyst Rob Rang said about Moncrief: "Moncrief's thick frame, deceptive speed and smooth route-running make him a nightmare for cornerbacks. He does not possess the explosive moves of Southern Cal's Marqise Lee or Clemson's Sammy Watkins but might be a better player than either of them. He shows the ability to generate separation even against tight man coverage, and accelerates quickly, often leaving defenders in his dust on double-moves. Moncrief tracks the ball well and generally shows excellent hands (one drop vs. Texas), as well as the body control to make the dazzling grab.
(But Miami doesn't really need another receiver.)
Here was CBS' assessment of Gaines: "He has the size, length and aggressive nature to match up well against receivers at the line, to press. Shows footwork and redirection skills. Inexperienced in the backpedal. Holds the Rice record for most career passes defended (42). Just needs to come down with more interceptions."
### Seantrel Henderson’s agent, David Levine, said his client “had an amazing workout for the Dolphins [Friday] and great meetings with the staff, including a private meeting with Joe Philbin after his workout. He hopes Miami drafts him.”
### The Dolphins had conversations with the agent for free agent tight end Jermichael Finley and said they could have interest if he’s cleared to resume his career after neck surgery. But other teams have been more pro-active. Joe Philbin was offensive coordinator during part of Finley's tenure with the Packers. Incidentally, Dustin Keller also remains unsigned.
### According to the Delaware County Times, the Dolphins rejected Philadelphia’s offer of a second-round pick and linebacker Brandon Graham (a backup with three sacks last season) for Dion Jordan.
The Dolphins, who denied a report that Jordan is available, have been auditioning pass rushers in the draft. They dispatched their defensive line coach to Minnesota to privately work out Concordia-St. Paul defensive end Zach Moore, who has 33 college sacks and has created a buzz.
### Snapshots from the private rooms of the UM Hall of Fame banquet Thursday: Warren Sapp hugging Pat Riley, then later complaining about UM’s ACC-worst defense… Andre Johnson raving about Stacy Coley (“tremendous talent; his speed stands out most of all”) and how new Dolphins tackle (and his former Texans teammate) Earl Mitchell plays bigger than his size…
Former UM assistant Don Soldinger calling UM safety Jamal Carter “a stud” and predicting he could be another Sean Taylor… Inductee Lamar Thomas, now receivers coach for Louisville, talking about “how it will be a little strange” playing UM on Labor Day.
Thomas told Al Golden a couple of years ago that he would love to coach at UM, but Golden’s staff was full. “I’m in a better situation because I can learn from one of the great minds, and it will make me a better coach,” Thomas said. “Bobby Petrino is an offensive genius…. I was thinking of going to UM practice [Thursday] but I thought it wouldn’t be a good idea.”
### The Marlins not only rejected overtures for now injured Jacob Turner, but also for prospects Andrew Heaney and Justin Nicolino, not wanting to trade pitching for hitting.
Their Double A rotation is among the best in the minors: Heaney, Nicolino, Anthony DeSclafani, Angel Sanchez and Jose Urena. “We call them the Jacksonville five instead of the Jackson five,” Marlins scouting executive Marty Scott cracked.
### Please see the last post for some UM spring postscripts, views and reaction.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz