Now in the third year of their exclusive one-to-one affiliation with the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Miami HEAT have closely used the D-League, not only to develop players, but to provide their coaches and related staffers with more experience and exposure.
After working with Miami for more than a decade, Pat Delany emerged as one of the minor league's best head coaches in 2013-14 with Sioux Falls. He subsequently earned an assistant coaching job with the Charlotte Hornets. After serving as a long-time NBA assistant, Phil Weber took the reins last season so that he too could have the experience to be head coach (be it on any level) before joining friend and former Suns' co-worker Alvin Gentry's NBA staff in New Orleans this season.
Next up is Dan Craig, who after twelve and a half years in Miami filling various roles, has taken charge for affiliate Sioux Falls. He's quickly followed in the footsteps of his predecessors early on, leading the Skyforce to a 6-2 tally thus far, tied for second best league record.
The HEAT believe in development and are committed to hard-working individuals. As a result, the organization has some of the best employee longevity in the NBA. Dating back to 1995, now head coach Erik Spoelstra began working for the organization as a video coordinator. Now a three-time NBA champion, the rest is history. He's a perfect example for those who hope to follow in his own footsteps (albeit it, doing it in similar fashion; working from the ground up) one day. Coach Craig agrees.
"I think this is a great opportunity to grow as a coach, leader, and a person," Coach Craig said of his new role in Sioux Falls. "I've been in the NBA for twelve and a half seasons, and have been fortunate to be head coach for the last three years on six different NBA Summer League teams. It was something I really enjoyed; coaching the team, managing your own staff and delegating different tasks. It all comes with being a head coach. This was an opportunity for me to do that over an entire season.
Talking to RidiculousUpside.com, Coach Craig discussed how taking on head coaching duties with Sioux Falls has already helped his own development. He said, "My goal is to be a head coach in the NBA one day. This opportunity makes you a better assistant as well. You start to see what head coaches in the NBA are dealing with. There's a lot on your plate; managing players and people. You learn how to manage games and get repetition as a leader in games and practices everyday."
"Being down here has been different in a good way," he said of the minor league experience. "I'm talking about the day-to-day operations stuff. Just talking with the trainers, conditioning coaches, or our owners about travels plans and stuff. These are things that are taken care of for you on the NBA level. You're involved here. You're an active participant in trying to make things work, and to do so efficiently."
There are only so many spots to be head in the D-League, which means employees of all varieties are often tasked with wearing different hats. As Coach Craig alludes to, this affects head coaches too because it adds welcomed pressure.
Though he may be a jack of all trades, Coach Craig's primary objective is to develop players and help them improve little by little. The Skyforce are a veteran group in D-League terms. They have plenty of skillful players, a handful of whom have tasted NBA life and believe they still belong. As such, one would think it would be difficult for someone in Coach Craig's position to keep the peace and ensure they all stay focused toward a common goal.
"These guys are motivated from the get-go. They want to make it to the next level. But of course, there's some motivating involved from a coach's standpoint," he explained. "Just getting them up for practice and following up with our tedious schedule. I want to make sure they come in with the mindset of getting better. But we have some guys that are real about where they're trying to go. You can't coach all of the guys the same, so you try and use their strengths as much as you can. Help them improve from a team or individual development aspect. We want to work in championship habits in down here, so that when they reach the next level, so that they help teammates get better. That's what it's all about."
Early on, there have been a handful of comparisons between Craig and Spoelstra in their work ethic and the way they communicate and carry themselves. While Coach Craig isn't certain what the future holds for him, if one thing is for sure, it's that the HEAT believe in him. Encouraging him to be head coach in Sioux Falls is a display of faith.
"The organization has always prided itself on development, whether it's players or the staff. This was an opportunity that was presented to the HEAT because we shared this partnership. I'm fortunate enough that they all have put me in the position to get better," he asserted. "This experience, to be a head coach, is invaluable. No matter where I end up or what I'm doing, this experience will have made me better. I'm grateful they put me in this situation."