Dan Craig moving up to head coach of Sioux Falls Skyforce marks a shift in the Miami Heat player development program, as well the increased importance of the Skyforce to the Heat franchise. With Craig leading the Skyforce team, the clear benefit is that he knows the Heat system so well that he will have players ready to contribute immediately in Miami.
The Heat player development last season was largely led by the backcourt assistant coach Dan Craig, who is set to guide the Skyforce, Miami's NBA D-League affiliate team, according to a report from Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel. Craig moved up from video coordinator several years ago to became an assistant coach under Erik Spoelstra beginning with the 2013-14 season and went on to coach the Heat's Summer League squads the past two years.
Using his extensive experience analyzing game films and evaluating players during game action, Craig may uncover talented free agents from other D-League teams. The Heat last season called Hassan Whiteside up from the Iowa Energy after his impressive game against the Skyforce caught the attention of then-head coach Phil Weber:
Former Heat guard Chris Quinn was hired last summer to split time as an assistant coach between the Heat and the Skyforce and will now move over to the Heat's bench starting this season. Interestingly Quinn knows both the Heat and the Spurs systems as a player per Winderman, "Having spent three seasons with the Heat, having played for Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs, having experienced the depths of the NBA with the New Jersey Nets and Cavaliers, and then having toiled in Russia, Spain and the D-League, seasoning is not a concern." Sioux Falls' former head coach Phil Weber accepted an assistant coach position with the New Orleans Pelicans, after leading the Skyforce to the playoffs.
Assistant coach Juwan Howard has been working out several Heat players in their practice sessions and has taken a steadily increasing role in that capacity dating back to last season and may soon take over the player development program. David Fizdale is expected to continue his role as the lead assistant coach under Spoelstra and will be working alongside Howard, Quinn, and Keith Smart, who was hired last year.
Several Heat players have been working on their game with outside full-time trainers during the summer. The Heat may want to keep training in-house to have all the players on the same page and decide which skills need to be sharpened the most. Having too many cooks can spoil the broth, especially when each trainer has their own agenda. With prized rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson possessing huge upside potential, bulking up the in-house skill development staff becomes an urgent priority.
The Warriors hired Steve Nash as a player development consultant to beef up their own program, even after they won the championship. They have raised the bar higher in skill enhancement programs, which require specialized areas of expertise. Coaches have to wear so many hats, such as game strategists, media spokesperson, scouts, etc., that skill development may not get their totally undivided attention.
Many Heat players are set to become free agents next summer, so this season presents a rare treat to have players such as Hassan Whiteside, Amar'e Stoudemire and Gerald Green at minimum rates. Next season the Heat payroll quagmire will be even more difficult to navigate than this year.
Developing rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson presents a pleasant problem this season because of the depth of veteran talent. Management knows that even with the luxury tax issues this season, keeping the team together and within the budget next year will be an even greater challenge.