Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra during the NBA Finals vs. the Denver Nuggets. Jun 1, 2023; Denver, CO, USA; Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reacts after a play against the Denver Nuggets during the fourth quarter in game one of the 2023 NBA Finals at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In today’s NBA, coaches are too often viewed as easily replaceable. How else do you explain former champions like Nick Nurse, Mike Budenholzer, and Doc Rivers being fired? Or former coach of the year like Monty Williams being ousted. Owners are impatient, fans even more so.

We’re all quick to assign blame when teams don’t meet our expectations. Perhaps there’s a better way. Maybe consider staying the course. The success of the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets shows there’s value in patience and stability. Erik Spoelstra and Michael Malone are two of the four longest-tenured coaches in the league. They’re both vying for a championship.

There’s something admirable and refreshing about the steadfast approach of Miami and Denver. Spoelstra has been with the Heat since 2008; only Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs has lasted longer (1996). Malone was hired in 2015, a year after the Golden State Warriors landed Steve Kerr.

We should all have the job security that Spoelstra enjoys. Team president Pat Riley picked Spoelstra, a former Heat video coordinator, to be his successor and has never wavered in his support of his protégé. Not even when LeBron James wanted Spoelstra fired after a 9-8 start in 2010, the first season of The Big Three of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and James. The NBA might look very different today if Riley had capitulated.

Spoelstra won two championships with The Big Three and has made two surprise runs to the NBA Finals without The Big Three. He’s regarded by many as one of the 10 best coaches in the history of the game. In 2022-23, Spoelstra survived difficult times that might have sunk others. Miami (44-38) had a disappointing regular season and made the playoffs as a No. 8 seed. The Heat upset the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks (58-24) in the first round. But they also almost became the first NBA team to blow a 3-0 series lead before dominating in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Even if Spoelstra had lost to the Boston Celtics, there was never serious thought that he was in trouble. As long as Riley is alive, Spoelstra will be allowed to do his job. That’s leadership. Malone’s path has been different. He has been fired before (by the Sacramento Kings in 2014 after a short stint), and he doesn’t benefit from the support of an all-time legend. Surprisingly, he’s lasted this long in a fickle NBA world. Malone missed the playoffs in his first three seasons with Denver. Hard to believe he could survive that today.

Malone was a largely anonymous figure until the NBA Bubble. In 2020, the Nuggets became the first team in NBA history to overcome two 3-1 series deficits. Behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, they reached the Western Conference Finals only to lose to the eventual-champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Denver’s ascension might have happened quicker if not for injuries to Michael Porter Jr. and Murray. With a healthy squad, the Nuggets were the best team in the West this season and have been the best team in these playoffs. Was there pressure on Malone? Depends on who you ask. They’ve had playoff disappointments, most recently getting swept by the Phoenix Suns in the second round in 2021 and falling 4-1 in the first round to the Warriors last year.

Some wondered about Malone’s status in March, but that’s just media speculation. Team owner Stan Kroenke didn’t get impatient. Now Denver is two victories away from its first NBA title.

Perhaps ESPN analyst and former coach Jeff Van Gundy said it best.

“Sometimes change for change’s sake sets you back,” Van Gundy told the Denver Post. “We all want to talk about emulating the Miami Heat or the San Antonio Spurs. And the one thing that those teams do that very few other teams want to do is have continuity at the coaching position.”

“And what Denver has done so well besides build their talent up is provide continuity for that talent with Michael Malone. And I think that instills coaching confidence and allows you to be the best possible coach you can be. And Michael has hit it out of the park.”

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.