Riles could use this. He could use it for his team but also for himself.
Pat Riley, if he can somehow make Kyrie Irving-to-the-Miami Heat happen, would remind those who’ve forgotten — and those who’ve begun to doubt it — that he is still an NBA rainmaker, a deal closer.
It isn’t about convincing Irving, who already has listed Miami among teams to which he’d prefer to be traded. This time Riley would have to convince the Cleveland Cavaliers to move Irving not elsewhere but to an Eastern Conference rival in the Heat, by either offering the best deal or selling it as such. Doing so would mean finding a way to do major business with Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner who seven summers ago accused the Heat of tampering to lure LeBron James. Riley also would be hamstrung by not being able to offer a first-round draft pick as part of the trade (at least not one before 2023).
All of these factors would make landing Irving a long shot and thus all the sweeter for Riley. And, yes, he could use another big hit right now.
After failing to convince LeBron to re-sign with Miami.
After falling short in his pursuit of Kevin Durant (and Riley thought he had a real shot).
After criticism he wasn’t hands-on enough to keep Dwyane Wade.
After striking out in his free agent chase for Gordon Hayward.
Yes, Riley, at 72, could use another big hit like Irving to renew his genius card.
I’m not making Riley out to be Willy Loman here, Arthur Miller’s aging protagonist in the play “Death Of a Salesman.” The Big 3 era and those back-to-back championships in 2012-13 sustain Riley with Heat fans. But, nationally, many look at the past few years, see a starless Heat roster — literally no one on it who has made an NBA All-Star team — and wonder if Riley still has it in him.
Cobbling together the winning deal for Irving, having the bravado to go all in, would answer that.
Of course there is a chance Riley would skip an offer for Irving and gamble instead on re-acquiring LeBron next summer. Or choose to stand pat with the team that went 30-11 in last season’s second half.
It stretches credulity, though, to think Riley would hear Irving would woo the Heat and not respond with an aggressive play to get him. Riley in his career always has craved star power, basked in its glow, and here is a four-time All-Star point guard just now coming into the meat of his prime at 25, a man who averaged 25.2 points last season and shot 40 percent on three-pointers.
If Irving is not quite Riley’s proverbial “whale,” he is close enough. And if he swimming right out there on Biscayne Bay, waving, inviting you to cast a line for him … you do it.
The irony, for Miami, is that the Heat now has a chance to land Irving because he wants out of LeBron’s eclipsing shadow in Cleveland — LeBron, who snubbed Riley three summers ago in a way that hurt and angered him.
Is Irving perfect? Nope. There are aspects to his game that might require some of that ballyhooed Heat “culture” to make better. He is a shoot-first point guard who would need to distribute more in Miami. He is not a great defensive player; that’s where coach Erik Spoelstra comes in.
But If Irving wants out of Cleveland because he craves to be the focal point, he would be that here. He would be impressed with Miami’s front-office and coaching stability after having the opposite with the increasingly dysfunctional Cavaliers. Miami would remind him how much he doesn’t miss Cleveland winters.
No, you don’t need to sell Irving on Miami. And his agent, Jerry Wechsler, is Miami-based and has a very good relationship with Riley and the Heat. Still, Riley would need to convince Cleveland with a winning hand, made tougher without a No. 1 draft pick (or two) to offer.
The principle deal would be Irving for Goran Dragic but, of course, Miami would need to offer a lot more. If it were to happen soon, as a two-team deal, the Heat also could add some combination of Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Wayne Ellington or (after Aug. 1) top draft pick Bam Adebayo. The Cavs might need to throw in some dead wood (Channing Frye?) to make the contract exchange work.
But how much would the Heat be willing to give up? Could Cleveland still get a better deal elsewhere? And all of this is presuming the Cavs agree to oblige Irving’s trade request at all, which is no certainty.
The various impediments are why Riley pulling off this deal would be such a triumph.
For the Heat, but also for its leader.