Don't expect Heat to stand pat in search of another title
Pat Riley wants to keep riding this title train, so expect the Heat to make some offseason tweaks.
By CHRIS TOMASSON FS Florida
MIAMI — Pat Riley is about to be fitted for his ninth NBA championship ring. He’s three years past the standard retirement age.
But Riley, 68, is not planning to go anywhere anytime soon. Maybe he’s trying to catch Phil Jackson, who has a combined 13 rings from being a player and a coach.
"I just want this thing to keep going,'' the Heat president said after he had won his latest NBA title with Miami's 95-88 win over San Antonio in Thursday’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals. "I’m at an age right now where I’m ready to fly off somewhere. But I’m not going to because the good Lord has blessed me with a team that’s allowed me to grab onto its coattails for as long as they want to be together. This is just an incredible experience.''
Riley has one ring as a player, one as an assistant coach, five as a head coach and now two as an executive. Getting into double digits looks very possible.
The Heat will go into next season as a strong favorite to win a third straight NBA title. But Riley still knows he can’t stand, well, pat.
It was hardly an easy stroll to the championship. Miami needed seven games to beat Indiana in the Eastern Conference finals as well as to dispatch the valiant Spurs.
The Heat don’t need to think too much now about what’s going on in the West. It could be tough enough in the East next season.
The Pacers, who gave Miami problems with their big front line, figure to even better after gaining valuable experience. Chicago will be much better if 2011 MVP Derrick Rose can return to full strength after missing all of last season following knee surgery. And while it remains to be seen what might happen with New York, the Knicks were the most recent No. 2 seed in the East and they do have scoring champ Carmelo Anthony.
Since the Big Three era of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh got underway in the summer of 2010, Riley has continued to have success tinkering with other parts of the team.
Before the 2011-12 season, he added forward Shane Battier, whose outside shooting now has made a difference in winning two Finals. And before last season, Riley signed guard Ray Allen, whose 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation in Tuesday’s Game 6 tied the score and ended up saving the season as the Heat won 103-100 in overtime.
But while Riley has concentrated the past two offseasons on the perimeter, he now needs to find another big man. The Heat were vulnerable against Pacers 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, and the Bulls also possess problems with their big front line.
Mike Conley, agent for 7-foot free-agent center Greg Oden, told FOX Sports Florida on Friday there is mutual interest between his client and the Heat and he will talk with Riley when free agency starts July 1. Oden, the 2007 No. 1 draft pick, hasn’t played in an NBA game due to knee problems since December 2009, but he could be worth the risk.
Also, Milwaukee center Samuel Dalembert, who becomes a free agent July 1, told FOX Sports Florida early in the playoffs he has an interest in signing with Miami. The Heat looked at Dalembert in free agency before the 2011-12 season.
The Heat can use the taxpayer midlevel exception starting at $3.183 million on a free agent. But that exception might also need to be used in some manner to re-sign center Chris "Birdman” Andersen, who joined the team in January and played a key role in the title run. Andersen’s agent, Mark Bryant, has said his client is hopeful of returning to Miami.
"We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we can stay competitive," Wade said. "And adding a guy like Ray Allen, adding a guy like Birdman, this organization doesn’t rest on trying to make sure that we can put ourselves in a position to have a trophy like this. So we’ll be back next year again, looking to do it again."
Allen, who turns 38 next month, can opt out of a contract that would pay him $3.23 million next season. He was noncommittal before Game 7 about what he might do and said he will take some time before having to make a decision by the end of this month.
It would be a surprise if Allen opted out. He can’t get paid more by the Heat, he might not be able to make more on the open market and there’s nowhere else he would have a better chance to win another ring. And it doesn’t appear Allen, who stays in great shape, is ready to retire.
The most likely significant Heat defection could be swingman Mike Miller, who provided some key 3-point shooting early in the Finals and started the last four games. Miller is owed $8.8 million on the final two years of his contract and could be an amnesty victim due to a more punitive luxury tax entering the NBA next season. If Miller is let go, the Heat would be responsible for his salary but wouldn’t have to pay a tax on it.
While there was plenty of speculation about whether Bosh would have been a candidate to be dispatched had Miami lost the Finals, that seems unlikely now. The Heat continue to have confidence in Bosh. Besides, due more than $60 million on the last three years of his contract, Bosh’s trade value isn’t exactly soaring after an uneven postseason that included a scoreless Game 7.
James, Wade and Bosh, who all will make around $19 million next season, all can opt out of their contracts in the summer of 2014. But James is the only one in that situation who would seem to concern the Heat much. It’s doubtful Bosh or the often-injured Wade could recoup the lost money if either opted out in 2014 and gave up more than $40 million over two years.
So let the talk speculation really shift into gear next season about whether James will re-sign with the Heat or head back to Cleveland, where he bolted from to come to Miami three years ago. Until then, James will be taking plenty of vacation time.
"I came here to win championships and to be able to go back-to-back," James said Thursday after being handed his second straight Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award. "Two championships in three years so far. It’s the ultimate. I don’t want to think about next year right now, what our possibilities are next year. … I need to rest my body."
So does Wade. He played throughout the postseason with a painful bone bruise on his right knee and then in Game 6 banged his left knee, which was surgically repaired last summer. Wade, though, is hopeful he won’t need to have any surgeries this summer.
"Obviously, there will be a few treatments me and Doc will talk about, but it won’t be surgery," said Wade, 31. "Treatments, I hope. A lot of rest is going to be key for (his knees)."
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Heat next season make a concerted effort to cut back on minutes logged by Wade. His average of 34.7 in 2012-13 was actually higher than the 33.2 of the previous season.
If Miller, 33, isn’t an amnesty victim, one reason could be to maintain some depth on the perimeter with Wade’s health an issue and with Allen and Battier, who turns 35 in September, both in jeopardy of losing another step.
Among more minor items, guard James Jones and forward Rashard Lewis, who weren’t in the postseason rotation, both have told FOX Sports Florida they don’t plan to opt out of their contracts this summer to become free agents. Jones is due $1.5 million and Lewis $1.4 million.
Overall, the Heat look to be in great shape to become just the fourth franchise in history to have won at least three NBA titles in a row. Only Boston, the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago can make that claim.
For now, even with high luxury-tax bills looming, the Heat seemingly want to keep this run going as long as possible. A reporter even cracked to coach Erik Spoelstra about extending it for 20 years.
"Twenty years?" Spoelstra said. "I hope our guys can play that long."
That would make Riley then 88. Considering all the fun he’s having now, he might not mind sticking around that long.