Dan Craig’s Journey: From Chelmsford to the NBA
BOSTON -- Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra can’t find much to criticize his close friend Dan Craig about.
Well, there is one thing.
“The only negative thing is that he’s from up here,” joked Spoelstra about the Chelmsford native Craig on Monday evening at TD Garden before the Heat lost to the Boston Celtics. “Everything else about the guy is great.”
Craig, a 1999 Chelmsford High School grad and a former Sun Boys Basketball Player of the Year, is an assistant coach on Spoelstra’s staff. It’s easy to understand why Spoelstra is so fond of Craig. The man is a true NBA success story. He started as a video intern for the Heat in 2003-04 and climbed the ranks with long days and countless hours in the film room. Craig has gained a reputation across the league as a dedicated worker, a valuable resource and a respected mind. He’s been a perfect fit for a franchise with a history of a winning culture and the NBA championships to back it up.
Craig has been in the Heat organization for 16 years, the last three as an assistant coach. The 48-year-old Spoelstra, who took a similar path to making it as an NBA head coach, is thankful to have Craig by his side.
“DC is much like myself, he started at the bottom,” said Spoelstra. “Learning the business from the video room of the Miami Heat is different, to say the least. The workload, the expectations, everything behind the scenes -- it’s grunt work. It’s not for everybody. We’ve had a lot of people that quit and said this just wasn’t for them, but those that have been able to survive it end up gaining such an incredible wealth of knowledge in this profession at all levels. That’s scouting, that’s player development, that’s strategy tactics. (Craig) is extremely polished now, he’s done basically everything, including coaching at Sioux Falls (Miami’s G-League affiliate) and he’s somebody that I lean on a lot. I lean on him like he’s a head coach, but he’s also one of my closest friends.”
Craig resides in beautiful Coconut Grove with his wife Jackie and their two sons. The former Plymouth State guard and captain was reminded how rough a New England winter can be as temperatures barely touched double-digits during Miami’s trip to Boston.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Craig. “I walked outside (Sunday night) and I was like, ‘Oh man, this is brutal.’ ”
Craig’s mom and twin sister attended Monday’s game. Unfortunately for them, they saw Craig and the Heat drop a 107-99 contest to the Celtics and dip to 22-23. As of Tuesday, the Heat were in the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race but had just a 2.5-game cushion from being out of the playoffs.
“January is kind of a prime month for everybody,” Craig said. “We have a ton of road games, and going into the all-star break we’re going to be on the road. So things have been good and busy.”
Celtics fans have endured their share of frustrations due to the team’s inconsistent play, but Craig expects the C’s to be a major factor.
“Some teams just jumped out of the gate, you know, like Toronto. And then Milwaukee played great to start the season,” Craig said. “I think the Celtics, now they have everybody back healthy and they’re trying to get on the same page. They’re too talented not to get everything together. Kyrie (Irving) is one of the best players in the league and then you look at the rest of the talent -- starting unit, second unit. It’s only a matter of time.
“January is moving month for some teams where you’re trying to figure it out and build that chemistry, go on a little run before the break. For other teams, it goes the other way pretty fast, too. So you try to stay on the good side of it.”
Craig speaks like a head coach and that’s a product of soaking in every basketball experience he’s had.
Craig got his first taste of being an NBA head coach on March 25, 2018 in the one-game absence of Spoelstra. He also previously served as head coach of Miami’s Summer League teams from 2013-15. In his lone season as the head coach of the Sioux Falls Skyforce, he was named the NBA G League Coach of the Year after leading the Skyforce to a league single-season record 40 wins and then their first G League title.
Last summer, Craig joined Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff at USA Basketball’s Senior National Team training camp.
“That was great, to have an opportunity to learn from Pop and learn everything from USA Basketball,” said Spoelstra of Craig. “I hope he gets to continue it this summer, but it shows you the type of respect that he has around the league.”
Follow Matt Langone on Twitter @MattLangone