As the Heat was mounting a fourth-quarter rally in an eventual loss to the Celtics on Monday, Kelly Olynyk stood and cheered with his teammates at the end of the Miami bench.
“You’re still part of the team,” Olynyk said afterward. “You want to win.”
He would also prefer to play toward that cause rather than watch.
But Olynyk was never given that chance and remained on the bench throughout, relegated to a bystander’s role as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra continued to search for his best combination on the court with plenty of willing bodies at his disposal and not enough minutes to spread around.
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“You can’t guarantee minutes to everybody,” Spoelstra said.
And Olynyk is the latest Heat player to experience the minutes pinch, joining Wayne Ellington and, to a lesser degree, Dion Waiters.
Waiters, of course, complained about his lack of playing time after coming back from injury and was fined for his remarks. But he came off the bench to score 21 points Saturday and led the Heat with 18 points in a season-high 28 minutes against the Celtics, all but forcing his way into a more prominent role.
Olynyk, on the other hand, is going the opposite direction.
He played just 30 total minutes on the team’s four-game trip, including a mere four minutes Saturday and none at all Monday at TD Garden, where he had spent his first four NBA seasons with the Celtics before joining the Heat.
“Of course you want to play, especially back here where you spent a lot of your career in front of a lot of friends and family,” Olynyk said. “But coaches are paid to do their job. You’re paid to do yours. So you’ve got to keep doing your job and whatever it entails.”
Olynyk provides the Heat with a big man who can shoot from long range, led the team in plus/minus last season, and this season ranks third in that category.
But his minutes have suddenly evaporated. And when Goran Dragic returns as expected in February, they could become even more scarce, not only for Olynyk, but for other Heat players, as well.
Lack of playing time could also hit Olynyk in the wallet. He is scheduled to receive a $1 million bonus on top of his $11.1 million base salary if he totals at least 1,700 regular-season minutes. At his current, diminishing rate, he will fall short of that mark.
Olynyk said his mind-set now is “to keep your head down, keep grinding.”
He can only guess why he has lost playing time.
“Maybe I’m not playing as well, or the team wants to go with a different look, a different direction,” he said. “I don’t know. It could be a lot of different things. But I’m just trying to do my job whenever my number’s called.”
Olynyk is confident his time will come eventually.
“There will be another opportunity, whether it’s the next game or after that, or down the road,” he said. “You’ve got to take the punches that are thrown at you and deliver yours when you get the chance.”
RECORD IN SIGHT
Spoelstra will break Pat Riley’s franchise record when he coaches his 850th Heat game on Wednesday. For Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, who were with the Heat when Spoelstra took over for Riley in 2008, his staying power comes as no surprise.
“We were in kind of a rebuild stage when he took over,” Wade said. “So it was actually a good time for him to step in. It was kind of learn on the fly as a head coach and we had a couple of years where he was able to learn. And then we got the Big 3 and it was on from there.”
Said Haslem: “He had been in the organization for a long period of time. He’s super super smart, super ambitious, young, energetic — all the things you want in a young coach that’s coming in with a young group of guys.”
Spoelstra has won 506 games to Riley’s 454.
To put the accomplishment in perspective, since Spoelstra took over, the Dolphins have gone through five head coaches and will soon hire a sixth, the Panthers have had six coaches and the Marlins have had seven.
“It’s just how the Heat has done it,” Wade said. “There haven’t been a lot of coaches in Miami Heat history. When they they hired Spo from within, he was a young coach who worked his way up. It’s how they do it. It’s a family thing.”
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