Pat Riley makes no excuses, expects Heat to return to playoffs next year
MIAMI — Looking calm, cool and collected, Miami Heat team president Pat Riley began his annual "State of the Heat" address much earlier in the year then he anticipated and the desire he has to get back to the top is what drives him entering his second decade with the team.
This has been the Heat’s way ever since Riley moved to Miami in 1995 to join team owner Micky Arison and build a franchise together that would continuously be a contender.
Though Riley conceded this season was a difficult one with so many injuries and setbacks that prevented them from reaching their goals, he still felt — along with the rest of the organization — that the team deserved to be in the playoffs. Nonetheless, he sounded energized about the prospects of rebuilding the team and reloading for next season.
"Nothing has changed from the standpoint of what our philosophy is year in and year out on why (Arison) bought the franchise and why I came here," he said. "What we try to accomplish is that every single year, regardless of what the team looks like, we always come to win a championship. I don’t care what the odds are or what the prognosticators say. That’s always been our goal and our objective and that’s never changed.
"So we will continue and that’s what our job is right now is to continue to try to do that. Right after we were eliminated from the playoffs, the phase of kicking into the 2015-16 season started so that’s where we are."
Preparations for the NBA draft have already begun, with Riley joking he would be happy to send the Philadelphia 76ers their draft pick next year (due to a prior trade obligation) when Miami’s selection is expected to be later in the first round.
Should the Heat keep this year’s pick, Riley would like to address the team’s lack of perimeter scoring but cautions he doesn’t want to draft a specialist and would prefer a more versatile player.
"This is the fourth time we’ve been in the lottery and we hope that we can catch a player that will go with those guys and help us win," he said.
When asked about how confident he feels the next roster will look like and whether that will help his offseason plans, Riley couldn’t resist taking a pointed jab at LeBron James.
"Yes, no more smiling faces with hidden agendas," he said with a sly smile. "So we’ll be going in clean."
With regards to the squad that finished 37-45 and out of the playoffs, he has been more then pleased with Hassan Whiteside’s progress since he joined the team, with Riley even going so far as to say he felt the team landed a lottery pick when they signed him late last year. He also fully expects impending free agent Goran Dragic will remain with the team.
"We feel very confident with all of our free agents," said Riley. "There has not been any indication or any discussion at all with (Dragic’s) representatives about anything other then (re-signing). When I made the trade I gave up two picks for him. You roll the dice but we also feel good about the fact that we’re in a very good position to offer him more then anyone else."
More then anything, however, he simply wants the team to be healthy and play together to build a bond.
"I would love to see standing strong Luol Deng, Hassan Whiteside, Chris Bosh, Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, and Mario Chalmers coming off the bench with Josh McRoberts," he said. "Chris (Andersen) healthy, UD (Udonis Haslem), the tenth pick — whoever that turns out to be — and some of our younger players. I do believe that if you take a look at our depth chart, that we do have those developed players that have had significant roles in other places and have had star years that have carried franchises, at least two of our players have. You would like to see the team play just one game, if you could have, intact. We never had a chance to see that. But I think that we gathered ourselves and then we went through a real disappointing year from the standpoint of setbacks.
"We’re happy as an organization with where we are. We’ll be even happier with the players that show up at training camp in great shape and in great health and get through a year where there’s a minimum of adversity. I think we’ll be right back competing, unlike a lot of people think we can’t."
Unwilling to make excuses or to feel sorry for the Heat for their misfortunes, Riley instead challenged his men to come back stronger for next season to prove the naysayers wrong. In particular, he wants to see Wade take control of his health and his body so that the team can rely on him on a nightly basis again. But everyone, including Riley himself, will need to work together to collectively reach the goal of becoming an elite team again.
"Re-inventing yourself is taking a hard look and saying what can I do to improve what I do as a head coach or as a president or as anybody to bring something different to the table next year that will make the result a lot different," he said. "I challenge myself more then anybody else to make sure that what happened this year won’t happen again."