Pat Riley famously announced last summer, “I’m pissed,” when he sat down for his annual state of the Heat news conference.
Well, it’s almost one year later and the legendary basketball figure is still angry.
With the Heat’s losing season still fresh, and former Heat player LeBron James now officially back in the playoffs but with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat’s president called a news conference on Monday and then spoke at length about the past, the present and the future of his team. There was one overriding theme: that great fire of competition still rages inside his belly and, at age 70, Riley is not at all ready to let the burning subside.
Why does he remain in the game?
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“It makes me feel younger,” he said.
Always a revelation, Riley called upon his players, including Dwyane Wade, to be tougher next season and play through pain. He then all but guaranteed point guard Goran Dragic would be back next season. Finally, Riley seemed to take a veiled shot at James, the player who helped bring two championships to Miami, but then, when free agency came around last summer, left Riley at the altar after a meeting in Las Vegas.
“Yes, I am at peace with it,” Riley said, but only after making it crystal clear that he is not.
Riley’s incendiary dig, interpreted as a reference to James, was folded into a comment about the upcoming draft.
Last year, the Heat drafted point guard Shabazz Napier, who had the full endorsement of James. James called Napier, who led the University of Connecticut to the 2014 NCAA Tournament championship, the best point guard in the draft.
The Heat then drafted Napier but only to have James leave the team.
This year, Riley says the Heat is approaching the draft differently.
“No more smiling faces with hidden agendas,” Riley said. “So we’ll be going in clean.”
Asked to clarify if that comment was about James, Riley said, “That could be anyone across the board,” before adding, “I’ve already got about half a dozen emails from people I don’t even know recommending [a player], and somewhere in that email or text is always a smiley.”
So, yes, Riley talked about text-message emoticons and other things that don’t exactly sit well with him in a changing media landscape.
He’s not a fan of the Internet and Twitter or, perhaps more at issue, he didn’t enjoy constantly reading updates about his injured players this season.
“I do believe the narrative of the constant talking, writing, reading, disseminating information, social media grabs onto someone with a hangnail and then it’s two weeks they’re going to miss. It’s totally out of hand,” Riley said. “And that has to be stopped.”
Riley suggested that constant injury news creeps into the subconscious of the modern-day athlete and makes them “weaker.”
Riley said Kobe Bryant would maybe tell reporters to “eff off” if they asked about injuries too often.
With season-ending medical conditions to Napier, Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts, not to mention the constant updates on Wade’s injuries and many other minor ailments throughout the team, the Heat struggled to find continuity all season. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra played 31 different starting lineups this season, which set a franchise record.
Riley wants more consistency next season.
“I want to change the narrative of our team and getting back to what being a professional athlete is all about,” Riley said. “You might not always feel well. You might be at 90 percent, you might be at 80 percent.… I don’t think the modern-day athlete has that state of mind.”
Wade missed 20 games this season, which amounted to nine fewer games than he missed during the 2013-14 season. Riley added, with a hint of sarcasm, that he would have liked to have seen “just one game” this season with the team “intact.”
“We never had a chance to see that after LeBron left,” Riley said.
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▪ On Wade specifically, Riley challenged the Heat’s star to “change the narrative himself on his body and missing games.”
“He’s got five months to continue to work,” Riley said.
Riley also said the Heat would “need Dwyane every single night that he’s available.”
Wade is expected to remain under contract for the final season on his two-year deal, but he does have the option to opt out and renegotiate.
▪ Dragic will be a free agent beginning July 1, but that isn’t expected to be a drawn-out process. The Heat mortgaged much of its future on Dragic (two first-round draft picks) at the trade deadline, and Riley is confident the former Phoenix Suns starter will be back.
“If he doesn’t sign, my ass is going to be in that seat, and I’ll be writing about it,” Riley said to a reporter.
▪ On Hassan Whiteside, Riley said the center was “almost like having a lottery pick that’s here with us right now.”
▪ Riley said the Heat might be looking to draft a three-point shooting guard but didn’t want to settle on a “one-dimensional player.” The Heat struggled to space the floor this season, but Spoelstra and Riley likely do not want to sacrifice defense for shooting range.
▪ Spoelstra wasn’t completely immune to Riley’s criticism: “I think I told Erik to go beat himself up for about a week, and if he didn’t, then I would help him.”