The coach who supposedly wasn't up to the moment and the general manager who seemingly wasn't up to the challenge are still at work.
In the second round of the NBA playoffs. Finding praise where there previously had been skepticism.
What makes the story particularly gratifying is how they're linked.
Erik Spoelstra knows he wouldn't be here if Chris Wallace didn't create the opening.
Now Spoelstra finds himself working from a position of strength against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, his coaching credentials with the Miami Heat no longer at issue.
And Wallace, a questioned front-office presence first with the Celtics and then early in this tenure with the Memphis Grizzlies, finds himself engulfed in mid-south basketball madness.
"There's no way I would have gotten into the NBA without Chris," Spoelstra said during a break in preparation for Saturday night's game against the Celtics at TD Garden. "There's no way, unless I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps and get involved in business and marketing."
While Spoelstra's father, Jon, was a long-time NBA presence on the business side with several teams, it is Wallace who helped connect the dots that landed Erik with his current gig.
Brought into the NBA by Jon Spoelstra as a crack talent evaluator, Wallace was with the Heat in the mid-'90s when the team was looking for a video coordinator. That's when he tabbed the younger Spoelstra.
Wallace then would move on from his scouting position with the Heat to become general manager with the Celtics, before landing with the Grizzlies, as the front-office successor to Jerry West.
Now, just as Spoelstra has hit his coaching stride, so, too, has Wallace's creation in Memphis.
While there have been a few uneven moments along the way, such as opting to keep Kedrick Brown in Boston instead of Joe Johnson, and while there were challenging times in Memphis, such as the trade of Pau Gasol to the Los Angeles Lakers, there is now, for the first time, legitimate NBA passion in Memphis.
And that has Spoelstra feeling almost as good about what is transpiring out West as his own prospects in the East.
"You do feel great for Chris, because he is such an intelligent basketball mind. He's one of the smarter basketball minds I've been around," Spoelstra said. "And why I like it is because he wasn't concerned about anybody else's opinion or expectations or timeline. He was thinking big picture and he was thinking of how to get his team to a championship-contending level."
For all the bumps along the way, from trading Kevin Love for O.J. Mayo and investing a No. 2 overall selection on Hasheem Thabeet, it is the small, bird-dog type maneuvers that positioned Wallace's Grizzlies for the franchise's first-ever playoff victories.
The faith in Marc Gasol. The trust in Zach Randolph. The belief in lesser draft picks such as Sam Young, Darrell Arthur and Greivis Vasquez.
"Chris has a tremendous gift for player evaluation and he has a feel for it," Spoelstra said. "I don't think you can teach it. I've always said that about Chris: He can see if a guy can play just by going to a gym and not having to watch, although he does. It's not about watching 500 hours of edits on a guy. He has an innate feel for guys."
Including for a kid in the Heat video room who now is guiding the league's highest-profile team.
"There would be an Erik Spoelstra right now, but he'd be coaching in high school," Spoelstra said of what life would have been like without that nudge from Wallace. "I never actually even thought about it before Chris. I was thinking college and high school."
IN THE LANE
HEAT-MAVS II: As a Heat-Dallas Mavericks replay of the 2006 NBA Finals moves closer to a possible reality, it has rekindled talk of a fragile playoff history that saw the Mavericks blow that previous title opportunity after leading the Heat 2-0 in those Finals. "We're mentally tougher than we have been," forward Dirk Nowitzki told reporters, referencing the recent 23-point blown lead in an opening-round series Dallas nonetheless took in six games against the Portland Trail Blazers. "It showed after the meltdown in Game 4, the way we came back and basically won two big games back-to-back. We're a bunch of veteran guys who have been through a lot in this league already."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Having lost Tom Thibodeau to the Chicago Bulls in the offseason, the Celtics are in jeopardy of losing their latest defensive coordinator to another head coaching job, with Lawrence Frank last week interviewing for the Houston Rockets' vacancy while in Miami. To a degree, Ron Rothstein fills such a role for the Heat, even holding a chalk talk with players courtside during one of the final practice sessions before the start of the Celtics series. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he is a fan of the approach. "Football figured it out a long time ago when they went to an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator," he told the New York Daily News. "That allows the head coach to coach the team. I've always believed in doing that."
STILL SELLING: Having now gone through a full season after "The Decision," LeBron James said the negative feedback over how he handled the announcement of his free-agency move to the Heat hardly has crippled his marketing presence. "Absolutely not," he said. "I got the No. 1 selling shoe in the market right now and have the No. 1 jersey selling. So as far as endorsement and marketing and that stuff, I think we've all skyrocketed."
POINTED ISSUE: While the Heat continue to search for a long-term answer at point guard, things could get awfully interesting should the Minnesota Timberwolves win the NBA Draft lottery, with Duke point guard Kyrie Irving considered the top prize. 'Wolves management currently is in the process of trying to convince 2009 first-round pick Ricky Rubio, the Euroleague point guard, to join the team next season. Irving is represented by Heat season-ticket holder Jeffrey Wechsler, who previously has represented Heat players such as Alonzo Mourning and Quentin Richardson. The irony is that the other top draft prospect, Arizona combo forward Derrick Williams, to a degree overlaps with what the Timberwolves have in former Heat first-round pick Michael Beasley.
NOT SO FAST: As for those who might see injury-plagued Portland center Greg Oden as a long-term answer to the Heat's void at center, think again. Even if there is a mid-level exception available in the next collective-bargaining agreement, the Heat likely would be outbid even before the start of free agency, with the Blazers expected to tender the needed $8.8 million qualifying offer for the restricted free agent by the June 30 deadline. Blazers General Manager Rich Cho has labeled Oden "a priority in the offseason." The qualifying offer would allow the Blazers to match outside bids.
SEALED WITH A . . .: Celtics President Danny Ainge said he never considered the possibility of a suspension for Paul Pierce's apparent headbutt of James Jones in the series opener against the Heat. Of Pierce's nose-to-noggin nudge, Ainge said, "It looked more like an Eskimo kiss."
HIDDEN AGENDA: Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford said he has enjoyed other teams, such as the Heat, grabbing the playoff spotlight, allowing his team to operate beneath the radar. "People talk about Boston, Miami, Orlando and Chicago in the East and nobody talks about the Hawks," he told the Atlanta Journal. "We kind of like it that way."
28. Years since an NBA playoff series featured seven current All-Stars, which Heat-Celtics does with the Heat's LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. In 1983, the NBA Finals featured the Lakers' Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes and the 76ers' Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Maurice, Cheeks and Andrew Toney.