The playoffs. It’s the time of year when everybody has a little extra bounce in their step, when everybody can’t wait to get to the arena.
But probably nobody more than Miami assistant coach Keith Smart, who finished up the last of his cancer treatments and will return to his regular duties as the Heat take on the Hornets.
The inimitable Michael Wallace of ESPN.com caught up to Smart:
“They beat me up pretty bad,” Smart said Saturday of the cancer treatments. “I still have some of the recovery scars, but overall, the plan was to get Keith Smart’s life healthy again. Wherever that fell at some point — it just so happened that I finished up my treatments and went through a couple of rehabilitations — I got healthy enough to fly back here.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Smart will have a vital role in the team’s playoff preparation, but wasn’t certain if Smart will coach from the bench during the games. Smart said he continues to work on his conditioning and stamina in hopes of working with players on the court during practice sessions.
“He’s here for good right now,” Spoelstra said Saturday of Smart. “He’s going to be involved. Whether or not he’s on the bench, he’s going to be involved every meeting.”
It’s been a long and challenging road back for Smart, who discovered the cancer in November, just four games into the Heat’s regular season. He first left the team a month later for surgery and returned in late January before leaving again to undergo more rounds of aggressive chemotherapy. Heat players, coaches and staff members kept in contact with Smart through calls and text messages.
The most difficult moment came midway through the schedule of chemo treatments, when Smart said he grew too weak to file the game reports.
“My focus has always been on what we’re doing and the details,” Smart said. “I would present that to Coach. I told him at one point between treatments 15 and 18, that’s when it really hit me and I couldn’t concentrate — I was so tired. I told him, ‘Well, the reports are going to now start dropping, because I can’t keep up with them.’ And he said, ‘Well, why are you still doing those things anyway?’ But I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to be close to it, and I was able to do a little bit of that.”