In a summer of the great unknown amid a possible trade for Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is stressing comfort moving forward with his known quantities.
In an interview with ESPN in Abu Dhabi, where Spoelstra is working as an assistant coach with Team USA in advance of the upcoming FIBA Basketball World Cup in his ancestral home of the Philippines, Spoelstra spoke of the Heat already being in a good place.
“We had most of our work done,” he said, with the team losing Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, Omer Yurtseven and Cody Zeller in free agency, while also signing Josh Richardson and Thomas Bryant in that process.
“We’re bringing back the majority of our players, and that’s a luxury in this league. Things are so transient, things are moving fast. It seems like it’s moving faster now than even four, five, six years ago. We feel great about our group.”
From the Heat roster that advanced to last season’s NBA Finals, the Heat are returning Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kevin Love, Caleb Martin, Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Haywood Highsmith, Nikola Jovic, Jamal Cain and Orlando Robinson.
Or, at least for now.
Among those linked to a potential deal for Lillard, who has singled out the Heat as his preferred landing spot amid his trade request, are Herro, Lowry and Duncan Robinson.
With such matters largely left to Heat President Pat Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg and the team’s ownership wing of Micky Arison and Nick Arison, Spoelstra is placing his focus on his job at hand.
“I’m just immersed here,” he said of his work as USA Basketball assistant to Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr.
Within a month, though, the focus will be back on a roster that could be largely similar to last season or could be dramatically different with Lillard.
“We made some nice additions, we feel,” said Spoelstra, who also lost longtime team captain Udonis Haslem to retirement. “Josh Richardson, getting another family member back into our program. Thomas Bryant, who we’ve been a big fan of his.”
Then there is first-round pick Jaime Jaquez Jr., the 22-year-old guard who was selected as a senior out of UCLA at No. 18 in June’s NBA draft.
“And Jaquez as our draft pick, we’re excited,” Spoelstra said. “He’s a guy you can plug and play right now. He’s a little bit older and he has a great deal of experience.”
Jaquez also has been linked to a potential Heat trade for Lillard.
As for the Heat’s core, Spoelstra spoke in terms of getting back to where the team was before Herro was lost for the balance of the postseason in the Heat’s first playoff game.
“So we’re adding those guys to our mix and bringing everybody back,” Spoelstra said. “Tyler’s healthy, Jimmy and Bam, that’s a great core. So we’re excited about it.”
At the moment, the Heat stand with 21 players under contract, the NBA offseason limit, with training camp opening on Oct. 3.
Should Team USA advance to the World Cup championship game, it would keep Spoelstra overseas through Sept. 10.
“You quickly understand how challenging it is in FIBA, the teams that have been together for multiple years, sometimes six, eight, 10 years together,” Spoelstra of coaching a team of relative NBA neophytes on the world stage. “We’re trying to put together a group in five or six weeks.”
Spoelstra’s offseason has included a visit with the Heat at the Las Vegas summer league and then time last weekend in Springfield, Mass., at the Hall of Fame induction of Heat icon Dwyane Wade.
As with the Heat’s playoff run, Spoelstra again is working with a roster that is being questioned as to whether it has enough to make it to the championship round.
“We like that,” he said. “I think it’s given everybody a chip on their shoulders about this challenge.”
The United States opens play at the World Cup on Aug. 26 at 8:40 a.m. against New Zealand.