Riley: HEAT committed to championship contention

By TIM REYNOLDS, AP Sports Writer

MIAMI (AP) — Pat Riley knows the Miami Heat can be better. And the same even applies to Dwyane Wade.

Speaking about the state of the team at length for the first time since the season began, Riley insisted that the Heat are “one step from getting to the next level” in the loaded Eastern Conference and lauded the team for “competing like crazy.”

Riley, the Heat president, also made clear Miami remains committed as ever to get back to championship contention, even revealing that if a blockbuster deal was offered now — and wouldn’t require waiting for the expected free agent bonzana time next summer — he would listen.

“If, if, if something presents itself that is going to push me in a direction to trade my (cap) room and to trade my flexibility, somebody is going to have to pay a big price for the room,” Riley said. “It’s the most precious real estate in the NBA. … And we do have a max player that really is on our team, and we have max room, and there’s nobody else that has that.”

True, the Heat will have more money to spend next summer than just about any team in the NBA, and will have the capability to sign another max-contract player to pair alongside Wade.

That doesn’t mean Miami is ignoring the possibilities that exist this season.

And that’s where the challenge to Wade comes in.

The reigning NBA scoring champion, Wade is averaging 26.7 points but shooting only 42.7 percent, which would be his worst NBA season in that department by far. By Wade’s own admission, he isn’t exactly at the same level he was a year ago, when he spent the summer playing with the 2008 U.S. Olympic team that won gold in Beijing and may have been the most talented squad ever assembled.

“His efficiency is down somewhat this year, and we’re addressing it with him,” Riley said. “We’re addressing it with him, with (strength and conditioning coach Bill Foran) and we’ll address what it is we can do to help you maintain this lean, mean scoring machine that you were a year ago. If it’s a conditioning thing, then we’re going to address it.”

For his part, Wade said Wednesday he’s not as “efficient as he wants to be.”

“But that’s good,” Wade said. “We have a lot of season left. If I was as fit as I want to be right now, then I know I’d have a tough streak ahead of me coming. Right now, I know I’ve got a good streak ahead of me coming. So that’s a positive.”

The Heat (12-11) play host to defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando on Thursday night.

Riley did not indicate any sort of unhappiness with Wade, but at the same time, he insisted that he wasn’t going to treat his best player any differently than before — even though the 2006 NBA finals MVP will likely opt to become a free agent this summer and could decide to leave Miami.

“There isn’t anybody that loves Dwyane more than me,” Riley said. “And there isn’t anybody that will be more honest with him than me, either.”

Wade said many times entering the season that winning another scoring title isn’t high on his list, and he reiterated Wednesday that the continued development of players like Michael Beasley — who matched a career-high with 28 points Tuesday in a win over Toronto — continues to be vital.

“I just want, for our team, more consistent play,” Wade said. “For myself as well.”

NOTES: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he would wait and see before deciding if point guard Mario Chalmers, who lost his starting job Tuesday because he was late to a game-day practice, would start against the Magic. … Forward Quentin Richardson (hamstring) practiced fully Wednesday, but no decision on his availability for Thursday has been made.

Received 12/16/09 05:33 pm ET