The burning question, from CNNSI's Steve Aschburner:
Key question: Is Erik Spoelstra another Slick Pat in the making?
Spoelstra's gelled hair and tender years make the Pat Riley comparisons unavoidable. To most casual observers, Riley's decision to suddenly step down again and tab the 37-year-old assistant as his surrogate has Stan Van Gundy Excellent Adventure written all over it. Might Riley, embarrassed into retreat by a 15-67 disaster, return to the bench again if Dwyane Wade comes back (and stays) healthy, Shawn Marion benefits from a full Heat training camp and No. 2 pick Michael Beasley is as good as billed? Probably not, but he'll be lurking in the executive suite all the same. Spoelstra will try to differentiate himself by running more, capitalizing on Marion's and Wade's athletic ability and sparing at least the latter from some physically punishing half-court play.
The soothing water, from Riley:
''One day, I was driving in to work,'' Riley, the Miami Heat president, said Thursday of the potential itch to coach again. 'And I said, `Thank God I'm not in there doing film, doing playbooks, all these things that will overwhelm my mind.' That's behind me.''
I'm not so naive as to take a basketball executive's quote at face level, but I'm inclined to believe this. Riley's not coming back to take a lottery team and make it a .500 team, or a .500 team and make it a conference semifinalist. He's not rappelling down from a helicopter in the midst of every season to make a team slightly better. He did it once to win a damn championship.
I'm guilty of holding the Van Gundy situation against Riley too at times, but enough already. Oh my God, an executive screwed over a head coach. The horror! It's almost like an NBA coach's job is always in jeopardy. Who can live like that, besides everyone who is not Jerry Sloan? Riley forced out his coach, and regardless of the sloppy execution, it's hard to argue with the results of that decision. I love Van Gundy, and there's a good chance I'll spend a portion of this season coveting my neighbor's head coach. But Riley made the sausage, and it was delicious and covered in gold. Let's get over it.