While we celebrate Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, lets give Erik Spoelstra his roses too

Miami Heat rookie Tyler Herro was born in 2000.

His entire existence has involved Sept. 11, endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a financial collapse, extreme political division and now COVID-19. When you’re in that position you have no choice but to adapt, cope or persist. There is no time to think about being afraid. 

Do you really think he is scared to shoot a three point shot over Marcus Smart in crunch time? What’s the worst outcome, a miss?

Herro is persistent and fearless. He’s not afraid of any moment on the court. 

His fearlessness was on full display in Game 4 of the ECF as he lit up the Boston Celtics for 37 points, leading the Heat to a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Herro was the talk of the night, placing himself in the record books alongside the likes of Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and Derrick Rose. 

He put the Heat on his back all night long, never shying away from the moment.

For those who are getting their first look at this Miami Heat team, or it is your introduction to Herro, you’d be shocked that the 20 year old had a historic night under the bright lights of the playoffs.

But if you have been paying attention, you would have seen this coming.

Whether he’s hitting or missing, Herro carries himself as if he is, and always will be, a bucket. He wants the ball in big moments, the pressure, praise or blame on his shoulders.

His unapologetic confidence and swagger jumps off your tv screen, causing you to either cheer or eviscerate him. 

That’s just how he is built.

But we would be foolish to ignore Erik Spoelstra’s impact on Herro and the rest of the Miami Heat culture. 

Spoelstra is a developmental maestro who has always tried to maximize all that he can from his players — from LeBron James on down to the last man on the bench. 

Dating back to all those hours starting out as a video coordinator, splicing film, until he rose to his current position as the longest-tenured coach in the Eastern Conference, paying attention to the most minuscule of details has never been lost on Spoelstra. He is demanding, but continues to observe and reward players for their commitment to getting better. He will also give them freedoms they might not encounter in other places.

“I think everybody overestimates what you can do in a day and underestimates what you can do in months of work and sweat and grind when nobody is watching,” Spoelstra said. Herro “is relentless with his work ethic. Nobody was paying attention to us during the year. He had a lot of tough moments. He did. He had some moments where it was up and down and learning about our demands on defense. But he is a worker, and he shows up the next day trying to get better every single day and usually those incremental improvements every single day, and he earns the trust — I think it’s more important earning the trust of his teammates than the coaching staff, but it’s that daily grind when nobody is watching, and doing it when most people don’t.”

That way Spoelstra empowers players allows them to exceed their draft position and become what few expected of them. Miami has two late lottery selections (Herro at 13 and Bam Adebayo at 14) and an undrafted free agent (Robinson) making essential contributions on a team that’s one win from the first post-Wade Finals appearance – oddly enough, in the first season without Wade.

Adebayo became an All-Star in his third season and has benefited in the Heat concluding that he could be more than a rim-protecting, rim runner who only catches lobs. Miami instead puts the ball in Adebayo’s hands, let’s him make decisions and facilitate. The versatility removes the predictability and lulls defenses until he soars above them for alley-oop dunks.

Herro is granted a fluorescent green light that is mostly reserved for superstars, furthering his confidence and development. It also explains how Herro stares down a first-team all-defense player in Marcus Smart and sees it as an opportunity to start cooking up a crossover dribble with a stepback 3. 

Spoelstra knows how to balance player empowerment, and the pull back of players’ egos.

“You know we are all going to absolutely crush him to keep him humble, you know,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But I say that kiddingly because he has a great competitive humility about him. He has a confidence. He has a fearlessness that is uncommon. But he’s humble enough to work, to be coachable, to take the mentorship from the veteran players that we have on our team, and he just continues to gain more confidence as we go.”

We often bypass Spoelstra and give all the praise to Pat Riley because the man is a living legend, but it’s time we give Spoelstra his roses. 

Just take a look at the Spoelstra era of Heat basketball. 

4 straight Finals appearances, two Finals wins, and on the verge of a 5th appearance. He’s coached all time great players, and some average rosters. But one thing remained, consistency. 

You don’t often hear stories of players leaving Miami and getting better; their best years are often spent in a Heat jersey.

Wade left, made two stops, then realized only one basketball home was for him. Dion Waiters had the best years of his career under Spoelstra’s guidance. Josh Richardson had shown so much as a playmaker and two-way standout in Miami that he was all the Philadelphia 76ers sought in the return for the Butler sign-and-trade last summer. 

The common denominator is Coach Spoelstra. 

For this current Heat team, Spoelstra’s imprint is everywhere. 

In arguably the most important game of the season, the Heat looked to a 20 year old rookie to lead the way. 

A rookie setting the tone for a playoff team that has gritty veterans like Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala and Udonis Haslem is unheard of. But Herro has the unapologetic confidence and Spoelstra’s willingness to let players be themselves, allows for last night to happen. 

Spoelstra also connects with the star players. 

Jimmy Butler is the Heat’s best player, a decorated, six-time All-Star who plays with a controlled ego and takes pride in informing anyone who will listen about how hard he works. He had gotten a bad reputation for being a locker room cancer in previous stops, but maybe it wasn’t Butler’s fault.

He was in some poorly run organizations with very little structure. But now, for the first time in his career, Butler has structure from the top down.

Under Spoelstra’s guidance, Butler has become the ultimate leader, praising the youngsters at every opportunity. 

“I may get a little bit more credit than I deserve, but these guys have been carrying us all year long,” Butler said. “Here, we all get a piece of the pie. We all hoop. It can be anybody’s night. I don’t care about stats. Never have to tell you the truth. But I love when my guy is out there hooping. Going out there making shots, playing with confidence. I’m right there with him the whole way.”

Spoelstra enables his players to be their very best, it is then up to them to do the work. As for Herro, I wouldn’t bet against him. 

“I’m just going to bet on myself. I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Herro said. “I went from, you know, Milwaukee, a small town in Milwaukee to Kentucky, and nobody thought I would survive there and nobody thought I would survive here. Obviously, there’s a lot of factors that play into it but at the end of the day, I’m just going to bet on myself.”

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