For Some Finals Assistants, Future Talk Starts Now
TIM REYNOLDS,AP Basketball Writer
MIAMI (AP) — Mike Budenholzer is in his final series on the staff with the San Antonio Spurs. David Fizdale is now often mentioned as a candidate for jobs that could take him away from his job with the Miami Heat.
Meanwhile, all either of those guys could care about is beating the other in the NBA Finals.
Whenever a head-coaching vacancy is created in the NBA these days, it usually isn’t long before some of the league’s top assistants get mentioned as candidates to fill the role. Budenholzer was hired by the Atlanta Hawks last month as their new coach, and Fizdale has been mentioned as a potential hire in several cities so far during these playoffs.
It can be quite a distraction. But in the cases of Budenholzer and Fizdale, the task at hand in these finals takes absolute priority.
“For me he’s been a confidante for a long time, a really trusted professional and friend all at the same time,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Budenholzer, who’s been with him for all four of San Antonio’s previous championship runs. “Highly gifted, highly intelligent young man who is going to do a great job, I believe.”
Budenholzer’s future is crystal clear: He’s moving to Atlanta.
In Fizdale’s case, any talk of his future is all speculation, most of which seems like news to him.
He was presumed to be on the list of candidates in Cleveland and Detroit before they made hires earlier in this postseason, and most recently has been reported to be under consideration in Philadelphia. Fizdale insists he has not spoken to any clubs during the Heat’s playoff run.
“No one’s contacted me and I’m not necessarily pursuing anything,” Fizdale said. “All I can think of is the Spurs right now.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he was never a serious candidate for any other NBA job when he was an assistant in Miami under Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy, and that Van Gundy never was a hot name when he worked under Riley.
It’s not all that common for people to leave the Heat organization, and even Fizdale acknowledged only the right offer would sway him elsewhere.
“It’s so first-class here,” Fizdale said. “How coach Riley has structured this organization from a cultural standpoint, it really makes you feel a part of a family. The fact that we’re always contending to win a title, it makes it very difficult to leave here. It’s the city of Miami, which is great.
“Think about my position,” he added. “I’m a 38-year-old assistant coach and I get to talk to Pat Riley every day.”
Fizdale has been in Miami since 2008, and his loyalty to the Heat is quite clear.
So imagine what it’s like in Budenholzer’s case. He’s been with Popovich forever, starting from the very bottom of the ranks as a film-room staffer in Golden State.
“Told him if he wanted to do something, go back in the film room and put those pick-and-rolls together for me and don’t talk to me, don’t ask for tickets, don’t speak to anybody,” Popovich said. “Just do the film and go home. And no money, by the way. That’s what he did for a year. That’s what he’s built like.”
Budenholzer wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“I know I’m living a dream,” Budenholzer said.
Popovich said it’s strange to think about next season and not having Budenholzer around. Those sentiments were echoed by R.C. Buford, the Spurs’ general manager.
“After Game 1, we were sitting in the locker room area and were saying, ‘This is going to be really different when Mike’s not here,’” Buford said. “He’s been a huge contributor in many different factors. So it’s going to be an adjustment for all of us without him here. We’re thrilled to death for him, but it’s going to be a huge hole.”
Fizdale’s role with the Heat is tough to describe; he has his hand in everything.
He has developed strong relationships with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, three superstars who not only listen to what he says but often seek his counsel. He’s embraced doing it all while trying to stay out of the spotlight.
“Genius,” is how Heat forward Udonis Haslem described Fizdale. “Genius offensively. We can probably credit 70 to 75 percent of the offensive packages that we run and the spacing and putting guys in position to take advantage of their strengths, putting LeBron in the post and all those things that we’ve been able to do to capitalize, credit that to Fiz. His offensive mind is incredible.”
For now, the Heat don’t have to envision life after Fizdale. One day, it’ll be inevitable.
“We’ve had conversations, but really our focus has been on the task at hand,” Spoelstra said. “He’s proven his worth, not only here but out there around the league. Everybody around the league knows how we feel about him.”
Fizdale said he has no doubt that Budenholzer is locked in on the Spurs, and not already mentally moving on to what’s coming with the Hawks.
“The Spurs, that’s his family,” Fizdale said. “He knows what’s waiting for him, which is great, by the way. What a hire. I think it’s a great hire by Danny Ferry to get him. But I know Mike and he won’t get sidetracked. This is all he cares about right now, trying to kick our butt, win this series and help his family get another title.”
When his time comes — and it will — Fizdale said he’ll seek input from Riley, Spoelstra, Heat assistant Ron Rothstein and some of his other mentors, including Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, former NBA coach Eric Musselman and Knicks coach Mike Woodson.
If they say whatever opportunity that presents itself is worth looking at, then he’ll have a decision to make.
“That part is flattering, that people actually have any notion of me being a head coach,” Fizdale said. “I mean, that is a dream come true to even be mentioned as a guy who can lead a team and that I’m a person they would want to take the next step with. But at the same time, I’ve got a job to do right here. I’m very happy here. I feel like I’ve got the best assistant coaching job in the league.”
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