Heat Rewards: Sheer Genius or Fool’s Gold?

When it was revealed that Head Coach Erik Spoelstra had instituted a so-called reward system with his players, the merits of such a system were called into question. All of a sudden, the defensive intensity was up. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were both rebounding noticeably better. What was the reason for the increased production?

In a player interview, it was revealed that Coach Spoelstra had set up a system-a system under which a player can complete a defensive stop by acquiring the rebound and then have free reign to run or make whatever play he wants on the offensive end. Pundits were quick to point out that, while the Heat were having immediate success (and by all accounts continue to enjoy that success) with the reward system (deemed "Heat Rewards" by sports media outlets), such a system would ultimately fail.

My goal in this post is to evaluate the pros and cons of Heat Rewards.

Cons

I'll start with the bad news first. So-called basketball experts say that despite the initial benefits of Heat Rewards (a 9-game winning streak following an 11-game win streak), basketball experts seem to think that an unstructured offense will not make it deep enough into the Playoffs. History would seem to agree with them. The fun-and-gun Phoenix Suns only made it as far as the Western Conference Finals on two occasions. Don Nelson's offensively-potent teams never made it that for-at least not that I can recall. Therefore, the Miami Heat's current success-possibly Fool's Gold-may only be fleeting.

My own personal problem with the system (Wait! I have some good things to say about it as well, but I'll save those for the Pros section) is that the offense is being turned over to the players. Don't get me wrong, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are great playmakers, but they are hardly players I would have personally turned over an entire offense to. In fact, the only players I would ever imagine giving complete control of my offense to are point guards. Even then, there are only three I can come up with: Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Jason Kidd, and Steve Nash. If Chris Paul continues his current brilliance for another five to six years, I'll increase the size of this list to four players. As dynamic as they were (and one is), I'd never totally turn over my offense to Isiah Thomas, Gary Payton, or even the likes of John Stockton, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant.

Pros

As noted, the Heat have won 20 of their last 21 games-several in impressive fashion. That recent success can be tracked back to the implementation of Heat Rewards. Part of a coach's job is to motivate. Coach Spo has clearly found a way to motivate his players to play to the absolute top of their game defensively. From a coaching standpoint, I'd like to further commend Spo for not merely saying to his troops, "Play solid defense and you can do whatever you like on offense." He stipulated that they must get a stop-a turnover of the rebound. A defensive possession is not sealed until the ball is rebounded.

In conclusion, the pros clearly outweigh the cons up to this point. Why? Because the team is winning and living up to its potential. I'll admit that I thought of a similar solution-if only to solve the problem of Coach Spoelstra's bland offense. I just would have never thought that the guys would have been so successful doing their own thing with no base offense-no matter how good D-Wade and No. 6 have been over the courses of the respective careers at making plays for themselves and others. In other words, I'd never have been bold enough to do what Spoelstra has. Will it be enough to bring home the 2011 World Championship Banner in American Airlines Arena? That remains to be seen, but for now at least, Spo has his guys playing their best basketball of the season. As for the rest, time will tell. For now, though, Head Coach Erik Spoelstra looks like a genius.

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