The view that Cleveland and Boston are insurmountable obstacles in the East, virtually assured of meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Heat president Pat Riley apparently doesn’t buy it.
“I know we see an opportunity, because there isn’t a Golden State in our conference, or a San Antonio or maybe a Houston,” Riley said Friday in a preseason news conference, days before the Heat opens training camp Tuesday at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. “There are opportunities for us. And we’re going to take advantage of that.”
Riley said that “though I do see Cleveland and Boston at the top … there’s some question marks … with the Celtics, not from a talent standpoint, but they lost 10 out of their 15 players last year that had the best record in the East. And you’re not going to know how that’s going to really play out. Cleveland lost who I thought, next to Steph [Curry], was probably the best point guard in the league in Kyrie [Irving] but got a great one back. But there are questions there [with Isaiah Thomas’ hip].”
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Riley also noted that teams projected to finish between fourth and eighth in the East — like his own team — “are a little bit more hungry and maybe we will build off that 30-11” second-half record last season.
“I am not saying we’re going to win 60 games,” Riley said. “That was a pretty impressive run for our team.”
For Riley, it’s unusual having a roster without a certifiable star.
“There were only 12 All-Stars in the Eastern Conference last year,” Riley said. “We felt like we had players last year who had All-Star years but they weren’t selected. We have stars on our team, but they’re not considered that [by others]…
“I respect the fact Kevin Durant gave us an audience when we went to the Hamptons to talk to him [in July 2016]. I felt we were a long shot. The same thing happened with Gordon Hayward [this past summer]. If we have the opportunity, we will always continue to pursue a player of that ability.”
Riley said the Heat “is way ahead of a rebuilding cycle, and I think we’re one step away from being a very good team. One step away could be the collective effort of an ensemble cast of very gifted players or one step away could be a move that could bring a player here. I do think we have the assets for that.”
Riley added that “what I’m excited about more than anything, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited, is the competitiveness that we’re going to see in this training camp. Players, all of them, want to play. They want to start; they want minutes. That can be good, and that can be bad.”
Riley addressed other issues:
▪ Asked about a potential return of Dwyane Wade, who is expected to discuss a buyout with the Chicago Bulls, Riley praised Wade and his wife, Gabrielle Union, but was cautious in his comments to avoid tampering.
“I feel great about our relationship that we had over the 13 years,” Riley said. “Anything that happens from a personnel standpoint down the road or any opportunities that are there, we’re always going to approach that. But right now he’s under contract with Chicago, and I wish him the very best.”
▪ Riley on the decision to give Josh Richardson a four-year, $42 million extension: “We didn’t want him to go in the open market next year and coming off a great year, having to match some crazy contract. We believe in him: his size, length, defensive ability, his ability to shoot the ball. He’s a prototype contemporary player and he’s young. This perimeter competition for minutes and a starting position is going to be one of the great things I look forward to in practice.”
▪ Riley on Hassan Whiteside: “We’ve seen growth in his play, in his approach to the game and his attitude about conditioning. I really believe he wants to be the best. We’re expecting a great year out of Hassan, and we need a great year out of Hassan.”
▪ Riley, speaking of rookie Bam Adebayo, said Kentucky coach John Calipari visited with Heat coaches at AmericanAirlines Arena this week while on a recruiting trip and that Calipari “feels we might have the steal of the draft. He believes this kid hasn’t even reached the ceiling and did hold him back some last year to an extent” at Kentucky.
▪ Riley said he feels no need to add a veteran point guard and that the Heat likely will go to training camp with 20 players, one under the NBA-permitted maximum.
▪ Riley said he doesn’t want Justise Winslow to feel pressure to score: “We love him as an athlete and winner.” … Riley on Udonis Haslem: “I’m so proud of the fact he has decided to finish his career here.”