Pat Riley has been around the NBA long enough for his feelings not to be hurt by LeBron James deciding to return to Cleveland.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t shocked.
"People in this country have the right to do what they want to do, and he went home," the Miami Heat president told a select group of media members Wednesday evening on a teleconference that lasted nearly 40 minutes. "We respected that, but it was a tough blow to take. After 45 years of being in the league, I have been around 15 transcendent players who have walked out the door. You move on. We’ve recovered very well and will continue to recover."
One critical piece to that recovery, Chris Bosh, officially signed his reported five-year max deal earlier in the day.
"He’s the most versatile big man in the NBA," said Riley of Bosh. "I’ll be damned if I was going to let him walk out the door, and he didn’t want to."
But James did walk, and he was, as expected, the major topic of discussion on the call.
Riley said he never felt misled at any time in the whole process and admitted he left his Vegas meeting with James feeling optimistic.
"There wasn’t anything in the meeting that told me that (James re-signing) wasn’t going to happen," said Riley. "You have an instinct, but as soon as something happens, you have to react as an organization, and we did that. I picked up the phone, then hung the phone up and went to work."
That work primarily involved calling new additions Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, who had verbally committed to signing with the Heat before James departed.
"No one tried to back out of this thing," said Riley, who added later in the call that he did get in touch with Carmelo Anthony, but by that point it was too late.
Riley also addressed the testy exit press conference he conducted during which he told people to "get a grip," and whether he thought it had an impact on LeBron’s choice.
"My message that day, as I recall, was born out of just getting beat against a great team by a total of 70 points in five games; we got our ass handed to us," said Riley. "It wasn’t about making a direct comment to any one player because everyone was a free agent or about to become one, except for Norris Cole. My message that day was simply to a group of guys who were going to come back and come stronger than ever and really take stock."
Now, the post-James era begins, and Riley has managed to keep almost all of the key components from last season together. Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Chris Anderson, Mario Chalmers have all re-signed, and will partner with big-money free agent signing Luol Deng, who will try to fill James’ monstrous shoes as best he can.
"We’re going to be very, very competitive," said Riley. "We’re going to compete with everyone else to win a world championship. We’re not going into this thing next year with this roster thinking anything less than that. It’s just the way I am as a man, the way I coached and the way I manage."
Riley admitted he’s particularly excited with the prospect of Wade, who played only 54 games last season as part of a rest program, potentially getting back to his old self.
"When it comes to Dwyane, we’re just going to see where he’s at (health-wise)," said Riley. "We feel like what he’s doing with his body this summer and his conditioning, that there’s a possibility he can return to who he was before he seceded a good part of his game to LeBron."
Riley also expects Bosh to thrive in an expanded offensive role, saying James’ "strong personality dictates a certain style of play that takes away from other great players."
Despite the increased stress levels Riley endured over this summer, the 69-year-old feels he’ll be ready to possibly go through the whole process again in a couple of years when James could be a free agent once more and teams will have what Riley thinks could be as much as $10 million extra to spend with a new, expected monster TV deal set to start in 2016.
"This process didn’t take anything out of me other than this one notion: Every now and then you have a chance to build a generational team, where you know that team will be together 10 to 12 years and everyone knows the team will be right there," Riley said. "That chain has been broken prematurely, but we’re going to try and make this another generational team. That’s what my objective is."