Erik Spoelstra Has One Job, And He's Not Doing It

Believe it or not, there was a logic behind pairing no-name, unassuming Erik Spoelstra with the great collection of free agent talent basketball's ever seen. But by launching a day's headlines worth of "crying" stories, then keeping it in the news by backtracking, he's blown that logic to hell.

Spoelstra now says that everyone's reporting of Miami Heat players crying after Sunday's loss to Chicago was "a classic example of sensationalism," that he only actually saw some "glassy eyes," no tears. And maybe the media is blowing it all out of proportion, but the fact remains, we wouldn't even be at this point had Spoelstra not uttered these exact words in his postgame press conference: "There are a couple guys crying in the locker room right now."

His words. His use of the word "crying," which he should have known writers would seize upon like a pack of dogs. This is his doing, when his only purpose in that locker room is making sure stuff like this doesn't happen.

The Heat are a grand, mad experiment in basketball. Can a team like that co-exist, let alone thrive? Basketball-wise, yeah, they can. They've got a good record, they're going to win their division. You really can't ask for much else. But Spoelstra's role has very little to do with basketball. Gather big stars with big egos, and the coach has to be more a ringmaster than an Xs and Os guy. You set the rotations and you stay out of LeBron and Wade's way. Your mission on earth is to keep controversy to a minimum.

Joe Torre wrote about this, saying being a buffer between the players and the media was his "main job." You handle the questions after tough losses, protect the players from saying or doing things that will put the spotlight on them, and generally be the stoic, public face of the team when the real power players are in the locker room. Owners hire quiet, bland guys like this because they figure they won't have any problems deferring to the star players and will keep off the back pages. That's what Miami hoped Erik Spoelstra could provide. But by giving the media fresh meat, he's done the opposite.

That logic doesn't hold true, in practice. The star-studded teams that succeed do so with strong personalities at the helm, ones who won't take shit or be pushed aside. Coaches like Phil Jackson, or Doc Rivers, or...Pat Riley.