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Erik Spoelstra Discusses Possibility of Miami Heat Tanking This Season
- Updated: December 14, 2018
The Miami Heat are in a precarious position this season. After a slow start, the Heat are 11-16, but only 1.5 games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
On one hand, they don’t appear to be on the same level as the top teams in the Eastern Conference and advancing past the first round in the playoffs would be a shock. On the other hand, tanking isn’t in their DNA.
When head coach Erik Spoelstra was asked about the possibility of tanking, he didn’t mince words.
“This is what pro sports is supposed to be about,” Spoelstra told Chris Mannix of The Crossover. “Competing every night. To try to win. Not the opposite. Obviously not every year you are going to have a realistic chance to compete for a title. Since I have been here, working for Pat [Riley], from day 1, that has always been the directive. For me, that brings great clarity. Keep the main thing the main thing. And everything else is just b******t.”
Although tanking is a popular method throughout the NBA, it’s never been something that has interested the Heat or longtime team president Riley. It’s hard to fault Riley for this approach. After all, he has three championships under his belt in Miami and building a winning culture was tantamount to each title.
There is merit to tanking for some teams. The Philadelphia 76ers famously tanked, leading to their ability to draft Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and presumably, consistent success in the future. Unfortunately, tanking doesn’t work for every team. The Phoenix Suns have been a mainstay in the draft lottery for almost 10 years and they have been steadily declining as a franchise.
Spoelstra tends to believe that focusing on winning — and avoiding tanking altogether — is the right way for Miami to find success.
“Do the history on it,” Spoelstra said. “What franchises have had the most enduring sustainable success over the last 24 years? We’re up there with the top three or four. The teams that constantly tank, I don’t know where they are. It would make for a pretty good discussion. But if you are hardwired to find a way to get it done without any excuses, you will find different pathways. There’s no one way to do it.”
This method has always worked for Miami. That being said, this time around could be different. The Heat don’t have much flexibility on the payroll and without a high draft pick, retooling to become a legitimate contender may be difficult. As one veteran NBA executive told The Crossover, the Heat may be hurting themselves in the long run by refusing to embrace the tank:
“You have to respect the Heat for always trying to compete and always trying to win. Players want to go to a place that is in the playoffs. When you have the cap room, you can sell a culture that is about winning and not losing. They have not built a winning culture. Players respect Miami and what they are. They have a great coach in Spoelstra—they win more than they should. This roster, with other coaches, with the injuries they have, they would be borderline tanking. But they don’t have flexibility or assets, and that’s a real problem.”
Riley, Spoelstra, and the Heat are not a tanking team despite what is in their best interest. For better or worse, Miami is poised to make a run at a playoff spot — just like they always have.