For Pat Riley, the time is now
This is it. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.
Every decision that has culminated in the current Miami Heat roster was made by a Pat Riley who already had his current strategy in mind. He has no excuses.
It took a lot of patience for Heat fans to get to this point. We sat idly by as the best player in team history utterly wasted three years of his prime. We suffered through a 15-win season. We watched the rest of the conference improve around us.
We did it all because Pat asked us to trust in him. He convinced us it was all a means to an end. He had grander visions in mind – visions of rebuilding in the summer of 2010.
We didn’t always agree with the decisions he was making. There were several that infuriated us along the way.
When James Jones was signed in July 2008, the partial guarantee was dubbed as one which ensures that Miami could still have maximum spending capability. After a starting role in the 2009 NBA playoffs, he was banished to the bench for all but 503 minutes of mop-up duty in 2010.
Daequan Cook’s fall from grace had already removed much of the luster from the 3-point championship he won at last year’s All-Star Game when Riley made a decision in October to pick up Cook’s option for the coming season. Pat had already been informed by the league of a projected 2010 salary cap as low as $50.4 million, yet he was willing to invest more than $2.1 million in a player with an uneven track record who, at best, would never be more than a quality backup to one of the best players in the game today.
Despite our hesitations, we believed in him. Because he had the resume to suggest he knew better. And isn’t it always easier just to assume that the people with the power have access to information we don’t?
Along the way, we overlooked some miraculous draft blunders. We overlooked several high-profile failed recruitment attempts, rationalizing that the team simply didn’t have the money to make an adequate pitch.
Now we do.
When Pat developed his vision, he couldn’t possibly have envisioned such a vast wealth of free agent talent. It had simply never happened before. Without question, the NBA’s free agent class of 2010 is the most talented in league history.
Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson. The makings of dynasty readily available.
The courting process has already begun.
Last week, Dwyane Wade told the media he planned to convene a summit with LeBron James and Joe Johnson about their future plans. And now the upcoming conclave is growing, as Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire have invited themselves to the table.
The situation has caused widespread hysteria. The media is now screaming collusion, suggesting the balance of power in the entire NBA could be tipped off its axis from a decision made at this summit of the game’s titans.
That’s patently ridiculous.
What exactly will the players discuss when they convene their meeting? Will they try to collude and demand to be signed as package deals? Will they play around with the ESPN Trade Machine to figure out sign-and-trades that might allow them to team up somewhere as a foursome?
If such a meeting takes place, it won’t be to hash out where they can join forces to dominate the world. They don’t need a summit for that. They already know that Miami is the only place that can afford to pay three superstars what they’re worth. They already know that no team can pay four.
And if they’re not planning to join forces, they will be competitors. How much would you truly share with your potential enemy? How honest would you be when you’re likely to be competing for the same complementary pieces?
Any group meeting between the superstars will be a fact finding mission gone array. It won’t change the course of the NBA for the next half decade.
Can Wade’s swagger hold sway over a group of superstars as they choose where to sign anyway? Strategically speaking, he’d be better served speaking to his preferred potential teammates individually. Such a forum could promote a more honest discussion over what it would take for Heat management to convince Wade and fellow superstar to ink their names to a long-term contract in South Florida.
Wade’s presence alone will have a great deal of influence. You have to respect a man who has stepped up to the gravity of the moment, basically declared to the world his intention to stay with his hometown organization, and become the team’s biggest recruiter. His words, however, may not. The superstars will need to see a path towards winning championships. Dwyane Wade and Superstar B won’t get the Heat there.
That’s where Riley comes in. He needs to have a master plan in place. He needs to have a roadmap for turning two talented players into a team capable of contending for a title.
With so many permutations, it’s difficult to imagine he will be any more prepared than, say, you and I. He’ll have his list of primary targets. It will start with Lebron James and Chris Bosh and proceed from there. He’ll have his list of complementary players, which will include names like Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, David Lee, Greg Oden and Brendan Haywood. And he’ll have his third tier desires – names like Steve Blake, Raymond Felton, Josh Howard and Mike Miller.
Then he’ll enter the offseason effectively as a salesman, selling the potential for a winner to a group of guys sophisticated enough to wade through the chatter and see the big picture.
His successes, or lack thereof, will have lasting implications.
On the left coast, Riley’s legacy has already been written. For anyone who was in Los Angeles during the Showtime days of the 80’s, he will always be the league’s first coaching celebrity, the slick-haired GQ on the sidelines. A winner. He made coaching seem cool.
Here in South Florida, the issue is still very much in doubt. The dark days of Riley have not been forgotten.
Riley took over the head coaching position in 1995, replacing incumbent head coach Alvin Gentry. In the span of just a few months, he completely restructured the organization. The franchise acquired Alonzo Mourning, Pete Myers and LeRon Ellis from the Charlotte Hornets on the day before the start of the regular season in exchange for Glen Rice, Matt Geiger and Khalid Reeves. At the trading deadline, Riley acquired Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatling, Walt Williams, Tyrone Corbin and Tony Smith.
The following season, the Heat made a 19-game improvement in the standings, winning their first-ever Atlantic Division title with a 61-21 record. He was well on his way. But he never got that ultimate prize, suffering numerous heart-breaking playoff loses to the Knicks along the way. After the Miami Heat stumbled through a 25-win season in 2004, the darkest to date in team history, he up and quit. Done. Right in the middle of training camp.
Then draft pick Dwyane Wade fell into his lap and turned into a megastar, he landed Shaquille O’Neal in a controversial trade and after the Heat came within one rib injury of reaching the 2005 NBA Finals, Riley decided he was the right person for the job once again when Stan Van Gundy “resigned” a little over a month into the next season.
It’s hard to argue with the results. The franchise’s only championship gave him a fifth ring as a coach. But Shaq seemingly turned old overnight, and he led a team to one of the worst-ever defenses of a championship, one that ended with a first-round sweep by Chicago. The Heat followed that up with the worst ever season in team history, a 15 win nightmare. And so yet again he quit.
He’s changed the rules to suit himself far too many times. He’s brought the organization from the heights of success to the depths of despair. It won’t soon be forgotten.
Unless he delivers a perennial powerhouse.