Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra often stresses how trust has to be earned. But undrafted rookie Jamal Cain learned this week that trust also can come at you fast.
An example came during the deciding closing stages of Monday night’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, when, given the option, Spoelstra elected to play Cain ahead of first-round pick Nikola Jovic.
It was Cain’s ability to be “extremely disruptive” on the defensive end that Spoelstra said triggered the choice.
At 23, after five years of college ball, the first four at Marquette and the last at Oakland University, there also is a maturity to Cain’s game that still is developing for the 19-year-old Jovic.
“He got a lot better,” Spoelstra said of the growth witnessed over the team’s short time with Cain during summer camp, summer league and then training camp.
There also is an approach that has proven uplifting during this somewhat downcast time for the Heat.
“We like his spirit,” Spoelstra said, with Cain recalled from the G League on his two-way contract on Nov. 11 amid the Heat’s outbreak of injuries. “He has a great, positive spirit every single day. It doesn’t change whether he’s having a good day, a bad day, an in-between day. You have no idea. He always has the same approach, a great enthusiasm for the work. And that’s why he’s going to continue to get better.
“He has a competitive toughness that we respect and like.”
To Spoelstra, it is another example of a Heat player making it the hard way after going undrafted. But Spoelstra also stressed that players such as Cain should never get too comfortable.
“You have to have some grit,” Spoelstra said. “If you’re non-drafted, the fact of the matter is most likely you’re not going to make it. And that’s not a criticism. It’s just the reality of the numbers. There’s only 450 spots. That’s what most of these kids, when they come into the league, they have no idea about that. I don’t think their agents are even informing them about that.
“So if there’s going to be some of these players that come in, well, I’m not a math guy. That has to mean there’s some player going out. Who will that be?”
Spoelstra then offered an anecdote.
“We used to have some of those non-draft guys that made it and got their contracts,” Spoelstra said, “and they used to give speeches like that at the beginning of the year to our non-drafted guys, saying we’re here for you, whatever you need we’re going to help you accomplish, whatever you want to accomplish and help facilitate this environment, we are the example of what can happen, if you work at it and are persistent enough. But don’t ever think for a second you’re taking my job.
“And I think that’s a powerful thing when our guys give that thing. Because it’s both, we’re going to support you, but also understand that everybody’s fighting for jobs. But Cain has that Marquette toughness. We like that, we respect that. I know he didn’t finish up there, but he still has some of that DNA.”
To center Bam Adebayo, the Heat being at an injury loss of so many veterans has turned into a net gain for the roster’s younger players, providing seasoning for when the games potentially become the most meaningful.
“I feel like when we get to that point of the season, everybody will be able to step in,” Adebayo said. “And I feel like the young guys are getting more minutes than they expected at this time of the season, where they can just learn while they’re out there actually playing through it.
“The one thing I can take from it is our young guys are getting experience in real games, trying to figure out how to win a game.”
Time for thanks
The Heat held their 31st annual Thanksgiving Celebration on Tuesday at the Miami Rescue Mission, distributing approximately 600 meal baskets to underserved families and providing meals to 450 residents of the Miami Rescue Mission.
In addition, Adebayo and Heat guard Tyler Herro hosted holiday giveaways of their own Tuesday. The T. Herro Foundation event included distribution of 400 Thanksgiving meals in Miami Garden, with Adebayo with a similar event in Liberty City.