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Chip Kelly, after all these years, remains a muse to Heat’s Erik Spoelstra

It doesn’t matter that Chip Kelly is down, that the current tough times at UCLA followed the one-year struggle with the San Francisco 49ers and the dismissal by the Philadelphia Eagles.

What matters to Erik Spoelstra is that Kelly still is a muse, a winner in terms of coaching creativity and philosophy.

That had Spoelstra at UCLA this summer, again learning from a mentor whose unique approach helped fuel the Miami Heat to a pair of championships with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

And it had Spoelstra, when discussing former assistant and current New York Knicks coach David Fizdale last week noting, “he had a big influence on our offense” only to make sure to tack on, “Chip Kelly, too.”

It was in the 2011 offseason, after Kelly’s Oregon Ducks had lost in the national championship game to Auburn and after Spoelstra’s Big Three Heat had lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, that the two met back in Spoelstra’s home state, a discussion centering on how Kelly’s spread offense at Oregon could translate from football field to NBA court.

Much was made of that meeting and an ensuing one that summer in Eugene, of how the two Heat titles that followed the following two seasons were a product of the pace-and-space revelations.

But after injecting Kelly again into his basketball discourse last week, Spoelstra emphasized that the nearly decade-long relationship has transcended Xs and Os.

“Chip, when I met with him those years, just helped me as a basketball coach to think differently,” Spoelstra said on the Heat’s practice court at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“The way he thinks. The way he approaches his teams. And he just had a great effect on me as a young coach, thinking differently, thinking how to maximize your strengths better for your team. All of it was more philosophical than schematic.”

Still, with pace-and-space – the NBA’s version of the spread offense – having taken hold this season more than ever, the Heat have proven more than up to speed. In the wake of their 120-111 victory Saturday over the Portland Trail Blazers, their highest-scoring game of the season, the Heat find themselves in the top half of the league in offensive rating.

While Spoelstra has remained in one place through it all amid his relationship with Kelly and is now in his 11th season as Heat coach, Kelly found early success with the Eagles before his demise there with one game left in the 2015 season. There then was a 2-14 run with the 49ers in 2016. And after brief work as a broadcaster, the current 2-6 start at UCLA.

No matter, not to Spoelstra. Coaching brilliance, and a brilliant coaching mind, transcends individual games or seasons.

“I went and saw him this summer. I went and visited him,” Spoelstra said, often otherwise reticent to discuss such offseason meetings. “For me, every couple of years I like to check in with Chip. I just think he’s a brilliant, unique thinker.

“And it has nothing to do with trying to compare the two sports. It’s more about his process of thoughts that I find very interesting.”

Over the years, several of Spoelstra’s coaching confidants have experienced the type of turbulence that the Heat and Pat Riley had provided insulation from, including Butch Jones at Tennessee, where Spoelstra also had translated football best practices into NBA approaches.

But in Kelly he said he sensed renewal.

“He’s doing what he loves,” said Spoelstra, whose team completes a four-game homestand Monday night against the Sacramento Kings, having won three of their last four games. “He’s been in some situations like Philly where it was unfortunate timing. But, actually, I think he’s invigorated by the challenge he has right now at UCLA. I could feel the excitement he had being there and the opportunities they have in the Pac-12.”

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra signals in a play against the Orlando Magic in a preseason game on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS)

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra signals in a play against the Orlando Magic in a preseason game on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami, Fla. (Patrick Farrell/Miami Herald/TNS)

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