In just a short time, Kendrick Perkins has already become one of ESPN’s most insightful and candid NBA analysts, and his popularity might have already eclipsed most of what he accomplished during his 13-year as a bruising center in the league.
Perkins often is most supportive of athletes he shared a locker room with during his playing days — namely Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Garnett. Recently the ESPN analyst stepped outside of his usual comfort zone and made a bold statement when discussing the surging Miami Heat and Coach of the Year candidate, Erik Spoelstra.
Perkins lauded Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra for keeping the team afloat
Kendrick Perkins played for the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers (twice), and the New Orleans Pelicans in his 13-year NBA career. His crowning achievement came in 2008 when he was the starting center on the Celtics team that beat Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals and won the NBA crown.
Perkins never played for the Miami Heat, but it’s clear that the 6-foot-10, 280-pound big man has plenty of admiration for that organization and its long history of success.
Perkins has plenty of reason to laud the Heat and head coach Erik Spoelstra considering where they sit now just beyond the season’s midpoint. At 29-16, Miami is in a virtual tie with Chicago (28-15) despite being without star guard Jimmy Butler and standout center Bam Adebayo for significant chunks of the season. That sustained success in the face of so much adversity is a credit to Spoelstra.
“You know, Miami is still sitting at the top,” said Perkins of a Miami team that has somehow sailed under the radar despite its consistent success this season. “You add a healthy Bam (Adebayo) to a team that went to The Finals two years ago, I mean, it speaks volumes about Erik Spoelstra. No matter what, he’s the best damn coach in the game today.”
The Heat have used their player development program to get the most out of their roster
Because injuries have limited Jimmy Butler to 27 games, thumb surgery kept Bam Adebayo out for six weeks, and COVID outbreaks hit the roster hard, the Miami Heat have had to use 19 players thus far this season. Despite that, Miami has still gone 15-5 at home, 14-11 on the road, and an impressive 8-1 against Eastern Conference foes.
Miami stayed afloat when third-year pro Tyler Herro displayed tremendous strides despite playing off the bench most of the season. Already, he’s shown why he should win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player awards.
The Heat used their vaunted player development program to get the most out of seven undrafted players. Relative no-name players such as Max Strus, Omer Yurtseven, Gabe Vincent, and Caleb Martin have supported veterans Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, and P.J Tucker and filled the cracks in the roster created by the injuries and illnesses.
“These guys, they’re the lifeblood of our player development program,” Spoelstra said in a news conference in Orlando last month. “Guys who weren’t drafted who have big dreams, they’re willing to put in the work, and gradually, incrementally, they get better over time. This is not something that just happened overnight.”
Erik Spoelstra is the cog that makes the Miami machine run with his strong leadership
The Miami Heat’s stellar player development program is head coach Erik Spoelstra’s pride and joy, largely because he seems a lot of himself in overlooked players trying to fight their way into the NBA.
Spoelstra, the son of former Buffalo Braves executive Jon Spoelstra, played point guard collegiately at the University of Portland. When he couldn’t make it to the NBA as a player, Spoelstra instead got there as a video specialist with the Heat. That work helped him establish a strong bond with Miami Heat legend Pat Riley, who ultimately rewarded Spoelstra’s hard work with a job as an assistant coach.
In 2008, when Riley finally stepped aside as head coach for good, he tabbed Spoelstra to be the Heat’s next head coach. Spoelstra took plenty of barbs when his 2011 team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh lost to Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals. However, Spoelstra fulfilled his greatness as a coach when he guided the Heat to NBA crowns in 2012 and ’13.
His finest coaching job might have come two years ago when his Heat upset the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Milwaukee Bucks and reached the NBA Finals in the Disney World “bubble” environment in 2020.
Ultimately, this season might go down as Spoelstra’s best when considering all he has done to maximize the available talent and keep the Heat afloat. Spoelstra even worked his magic again this week, guiding the Heat past the Portland Trail Blazers even though Herro (NBA’s health and safety protocols), Lowry (personal reasons), and Butler (ejection) weren’t available most of the night. Miami got 26 points from Martin and held Portland to 12 fourth-quarter points in another dramatic win.
“I bet that was my boss’ favorite fourth quarter of the season,” Spoelstra said while referring to Riley in his postgame news conference as reported by The Associated Press.
Riley and the Heat are undoubtedly happy to have the plucky Spoelstra running things for them. Spoelstra’s firm hand and unwavering expectations have the Heat at the top of the Eastern Conference despite injuries and illnesses that would have doomed most team. In what might be his finest work yet, Spoelstra is proving that he is “the best damn coach in the game today,” as ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins so aptly put it recently.
Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com.