Erik Spoelstra unconcerned by contract
MIAMI -- Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday that his team had learned to deal with so many unexpected issues over the past year that not even his tenuous contract status should be a distraction as Miami enters a season filled with championship-or-bust expectations.
Spoelstra coached the first practice of training camp on Friday with only six available players available, including LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. But Spoelstra's own contract is already the subject of much speculation as he enters the fourth and final season under his current deal after guiding the Heat to the NBA Finals last season.
This won't be a distraction. This team knows about dealing with distractions, and my situation certainly won't be one.” -- Erik Spoelstra on his contract status
"I've been here for 16 years, and I plan on being here for a while," Spoelstra said after the Heat's workout at AmericanAirlines Arena. "This won't be a distraction. This team knows about dealing with distractions, and my situation certainly won't be one."
A long-time assistant who rose through the Heat's ranks from his first job as a video coordinator over a decade ago, Spoelstra was team president Pat Riley's hand-picked successor following the 2007-08 season. He has a career record of 148-98, including a 18-15 mark in the playoffs. The Heat have advanced to the postseason in each of Spoelstra's first three seasons.
Speaking at a charity even last month, Riley said he hadn't talked with Spoelstra about a new contract and the subject was not a major issue. Riley also pointed to Spoelstra's long-term status with the organization as a sign of stability and the franchise's comfort level.
Heat owner Micky Arison also publicly backed Spoelstra after the Heat advanced to the NBA Finals against Dallas and told ESPN.com that his coach's future "wouldn't be an issue" moving forward.
Spoelstra's job security did become an issue at times last season, especially after the Heat stumbled off to a 9-8 start. James, Wade and Bosh all questioned their roles at various points in the season.
But all three of the Heat's key plays insisted they supported Spoelstra and also credited him for bridging gaps in communication and sparking the team's push to the Finals, where Miami lost in six games to the Dallas Mavericks.
"When you think about some of the things that were said, and stuff coming from the stands and the fans last year when we were struggling, if he can deal with last year, he can deal with just about any situation," Bosh said Friday of Spoelstra. "We know what the situation is this season, and we'll feed off (Spoelstra) in that regard. After going through that, what's a little speculation this year going to do?"
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Spoelstra would not say if he expected to settle on a contract extension before the Dec. 25 season opener against the Mavericks, but it's possible the team could announce one in the next few weeks. It's also possible that Riley, who stepped in for former coach Stan Van Gundy during the Heat's 2005-06 championship season, takes a wait-and-see approach with Spoelstra.
Either way, Spoelstra said his approach to his pressure-packed job won't change. He spent several weeks during the offseason meeting with college and professional coaching staffs to exchange ideas and philosophies. Those trips included stops to meet with college basketball coaches Roy Williams, Tom Crean and John Calipari as well as college football coaches Urban Meyer and Chip Kelly.
Spoelstra said his focus remains on implementing some creative changes with the Heat, and not on his contract.
"I think Pat said it best," Spoelstra said. "There's great trust here. I've been here a long time, and they've been great to me. We believe in each other. That's really all that matters. That's what it's all about."
Michael Wallace covers the Miami Heat for ESPN.com.