- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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First he lost himself. Then he lost his team. Next up?
His job. Soon.
This week, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is on the verge of losing it all.
And a more tangible loss -- the loss of Tuesday night's game -- confirms it succinctly and definitively.
Tuesday night, at home, Spoelstra's team needed to play for something more than just to stop the hemorrhaging in the win-loss record, although that is reason enough for the Heat to have stepped it up against Portland. Miami has won only two games in its eight since the All-Star break; after the 105-96 collapse against the Blazers, the Heat have now lost five in a row. It didn't necessarily look as though "America's Team" laid down on Spoelstra. But with a win, the players could have provided a sense of job security to the coach who, a couple of days ago, threw them under the bus.
And maybe it was worse than that. When Spoelstra told the media after Sunday's one-point loss to Chicago that "There are a couple of guys crying in the locker room right now," he essentially tied his team to the railroad tracks and watched as the Amtrak blew the horn and didn't stop.
Much has been made about Crygate since Sunday. Opinions have stretched from wanting to find out which players were actually crying to why a coach would "out" his players like that.
The Heat came out for Monday's practice brave-faced in an attempt to spin it forward. Spoelstra went so far as to play the "sensationalism" card, blaming the media for making something he didn't say out of nothing he did say.
(Yeah, I'm still trying to figure that one out, too.)
So all the Heat had to do Tuesday night was win. Had they won that game, the spin forward that they were looking for would have happened.
It would have given the impression that the coach had made an effective move when he broke one of the professional sports' unwritten commandments: What happens inside the locker room (unless it's immediately after winning a championship) stays inside the locker room. A win would have given the impression that Spoelstra had made his players look at themselves, made them soul-search, made it seem as though the Heat were rallying behind their coach just as they did earlier this season after Bumpgate. (Remember that? LeBron James and Spoelstra bumped into each other during a late-November game in the middle of the Heat's first free fall of the season, only to go on a 20-win, two-loss tear afterward to silence the conspiracy theorists.)
Had they won this one game, the perception of dissension could have been squashed. The drama, or at least much of it, surrounding the Heat and why they aren't living up to expectations would have gone back behind closed doors. Where it is supposed to stay.
But they didn't win. And even though Spoelstra came to the postgame podium as though he knew the truth had already set him free (literally), he somehow found a way to make an unthinkable situation worse by admitting that he has no idea what to do.
"We don't have any answers right now of how to get over this hump," he said. "We can't let go of that rope!"
Spoelstra gave what Chris Webber described as a "high school" speech to grown men. He used rally-cry sayings and words like "determined" and "resilient" to describe his team's state. He used the word "vortex" to explain what his players were in. He was searching.
Which is why Crygate eventually will be Spoelstra's professional euthanasia in Miami. The tipping point where it all went "north" from South Beach -- bottoms-up -- for him.
Spoelstra is not Bill Parcells. He isn't Gregg Popovich or Phil Jackson. Not Bill Belichick, not Joe Torre, not Scotty Bowman. He isn't Mike Tomlin or Doc Rivers. He is not yet at that stage of his coaching career where he has earned the right or overall respect to be the one who can get away with delivering intimate and personal information from inside the locker room before his players do.
Nor is he at the stage where he can afford to seem confused and clueless or act as though he has no idea how to fix what's going wrong with his team.
Is there an emotional imbalance to go with the chemical and strategic imbalances that seem to be at the root of the Heat's problems? Yes. But that is for them to figure out as a team, in private. That way, they can lie to us about until they have it under control.
Until it is behind them. Until they can handle the pressure they invited upon themselves.
Until then, we will watch as the current coach of the Heat takes nothing but heat. Not so much for the "vortex" but for pulling back the curtain, for making his players -- and not himself -- the punch line to jokes about crying.
The metaphorical bleeding will be internal. We will not be privy to the total damage Spoelstra's comments have done until it's too late to notice. Or while we still care.
The next six games will be the test, and the test is as challenging as they get. The Heat will play the Lakers, who've won eight in a row, on Thursday night. Watch the body language of the players. Listen to how they refer to "Coach" and how many of the problems that lead to losses will be directed at him, either subtly or overtly.
Listen to how carefully Spoelstra constructs his every word after every game.
Because right now, he is drowning while he tries to keep a smile on his face. He's looking for answers, trying not only to find a solution but also figure out where it all went wrong. He's in quicksand, not water. And everyone is standing around. Watching.
Heat president Pat Riley and principal owner Mickey Arison? Watching.
LeBron and D-Wade? Watching.
You and I? Watching.
And that rope Spoelstra mentioned Tuesday night? The one they "can't let go of"? It seems as though he no longer has a grip on it himself. He lost it the minute the words "There are a couple of guys crying in the locker room" came out of his mouth.
And no one will throw it back to him now.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
The Heat had a chance to change the future for their forlorn head coach Tuesday night. But when they lost again, they made it abundantly clear that Erik Spoelstra's time is short in Miami.