Want a better playoff winning percentage than Erik Spoelstra? Better hire Phil Jackson

Erik Spoelstra is 45 and looks younger. I mean, going to four consecutive NBA Finals should make a man as gray as four years in the Oval Office but Spo still has a jet-black head of hair and appears ready to take part in any drill if the Miami Heat ever run short of practice players.

Some of this stuff masks what he has become, which is one of the league’s long-timers.

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, NC – APRIL 29: Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat yells to his team against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference first-round series. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Among active coaches only gruff Gregg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs for 20 seasons, has been running the same team for a longer period of time. Spo is tied for second with Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, each of them at eight seasons and counting in their current jobs.

As the Heat and Toronto Raptors prepare to open an Eastern Conference semifinal series, it seems a good time to congratulate Pat Riley, again, for making such a good choice for his successor in Miami.

Sure, Spo was handed the Big Three on a platter. Sure, he could have won more than two NBA titles with them. Sure, there are reasons to downplay any coach’s contributions to any grand achievement.

Bottom line, though, Spo has kept the team together through all kinds of divisive moments, including LeBron’s departure and Chris Bosh’s medical issues. Now there’s even a flap about Bosh wanting to get back into uniform while the organization continues to wrestle with what is smart and what is safe and what is potentially actionable.

No matter. The Heat keep on winning, as they did in the seven-game series with Charlotte just completed, and Spo keeps on figuring ways to keep them viable as Eastern Conference championship contenders.

Get this. Spo already has more postseason wins (67) than Riley did as Miami coach. What’s more, he’s got more playoff wins than Riley and Stan Van Gundy and Kevin Loughery combined (55) when they were coaching the Heat.

[First-ever NFL draft pick in 1936 chose foam-rubber sales job instead]

[An entertaining look back at Braves’ 35 years training in West Palm]

[10 years after first Heat title team, Wade and Haslem still driving hard]

The longer view is where it really gets interesting.

In all of NBA history, there is only one coach with a higher career winning percentage in the playoffs than Spo. His name is Phil Jackson.

Here’s the list, with the qualifier that these are coaches who worked at least 50 postseason games.

Coach               Playoff wins     Playoff losses   Pct.

Phil Jackson              229                   104                 .688

Erik Spoelstra             67                     39                 .632

John Kundla                60                     35                 .632

Billy Cunningham      66                     39                 .629

Gregg Popovich         157                     95                 .623

Larry Costello              37                     23                 .617

Larry Bird                     32                     20                 .615

Pat Riley                     171                   111                .606

Chuck Daly                  75                     51                 .595

Red Auerbach             99                     69                 .589

 

Never heard of John Kundla? He coached the Minneapolis Lakers and George Mikan in pro basketball’s formative years in a time so different that Kundla decided not to move with the franchise to Los Angeles. He stayed in Minneapolis to coach the University of Minnesota instead.

Spo fits somewhere in between those ancient legends and more recent ring-collectors like Jackson and Riley and Pop. Let’s see where he’ll be in another dozen years, though. If he’s still in Miami and if Riley can lure another major free agent or two along the way, Spo might yet climb near the top of every list.

For today, though, he’s a pretty good man to match up against Toronto’s Dwyane Casey, who is learning fast in his fifth season as an NBA coach but has a career playoff winning percentage of .389.