Spoelstra can't take the Heat

JOHN McMULLEN, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 1:42 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Pat Riley's reputation took a bit of a hit back in the 2005-06 season when he came down from the front office to replace Stan Van Gundy as coach of the Miami Heat.

The Heat started that season with a disappointing 11-10 record when Van Gundy "resigned" in order to "spend more time with his family."

Most didn't buy that story and felt Riley forced Van Gundy out to try to regain his former glory by coaching a talented Miami team to its first NBA Championship, something he eventually accomplished when the Heat stormed back from an 0-2 deficit to down the Dallas Mavericks in six games in the NBA Finals.

Riley would have had no interest in coaching a pedestrian bunch but with Shaquille O'Neal set to return from an injury, Dwyane Wade having his best season as a pro and the complimentary pieces like veterans Gary Payton and Antoine Walker, he correctly assumed that the team had a real chance and went for the brass ring at the expense of his friend.

That might not make Riley a great human being but it did solidify his standing as a great coach. The Heat's title was Riley's fifth championship as a head coach, and he became the only pilot in NBA history to take over a team during the season and lead them to an NBA title on two occasions.

It's now time to try for No. 3.

When I want honesty about the NBA, I usually go looking for Charles Barkley.

I'm convinced the boisterous always entertaining Hall of Famer is incapable of lying. Some might consider that foot-in-mouth disease in today's increasingly politically correct climate, I call it refreshing.

I've never been interested in pundits afraid to take a stand and call out a player or coach with obvious deficiencies. In fact, I live my life by one simple rule, never trust anyone who tells you only what you want to hear.

Like most NBA players these days LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have likely been surrounded by sycophants for most of their careers, enablers acting obsequiously toward them in order to gain some kind of favour.

Real constructive criticism is in dangerous proximity of extinction, not just in the NBA but in our society in general. Among the talented, it is virtually extinct.

Only big time coaches with the hardware to prove it like Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers can even think about calling out star players in today's world.

You really think Erik Spoelstra has the kind of cachet to get "The King" or Bosh to work on their post-up games or encourage D-Wade to emulate Reggie Miller or Rip Hamilton off the ball?

Sadly, Spoelstra's chief role right now is rolling out the Spaldings and hoping the Heat's talent advantage is enough to get them over the hump on a nightly basis. Early on that hasn't been the case on quite a few occasions and Miami is standing at 8-6 after an embarrassing 93-77 home loss to a pedestrian Indiana Pacers team on Monday.

Barkley, a former NBA MVP and 11-time All-Star, has no problem addressing the early season problems of the Heat.

"The Miami Heat they don't run, they strut," Barkley recently said of the NBA's most star-studded club. "There are certain guys you say 'I'm going to leave that guy alone, he's going to kick my ass.' You don't see that on the Miami Heat. You don't say 'this is going to be a hard night on us.'"

You can bet the Heat will hit their stride at some point and start picking up the Ws at a breakneck pace. But, dispensing of the LA Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers of the worlds aren't what this season was supposed to be about.

James shunned Cleveland to win a championship and cement a legacy that doesn't care about MVP awards and All-Star appearances. Bosh fled Toronto and his status as a go-to-guy to win a title as a complimentary piece next to LeBron and D-Wade.

Right now, its hard to imagine the Heat being able to play with the NBA's best like the Lakers, Celtics and San Antonio Spurs. Those clubs all have nuclei that has played together for years with top-tier players that trust and believe in their mentors.

The Heat have the talent and the chemistry will come.

The coach? Well, that's up to Pat Riley.


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