You can’t be sure what Pat Riley will bring when he sits for his annual state of the Heat news conference. He might quote a philosopher, might offer a military metaphor. He might sprinkle in humor, might even make headlines as he did a year ago when “no more smiling faces with hidden agendas” was a barely veiled shot at LeBron James.
What Riley won’t be, ever, is boring or banal, and what you’ll usually get is something close to uncommon candor.
He brought the truth on Wednesday in a 45-minute review of the season just past and look ahead to what’s next.
It was a satisfyingly unequivocal truth regarding Hassan Whiteside, with Riley leaving zero doubt that keeping the young center with a long-term deal was his and the franchise’s offseason priority.
But it was an unsettling, hedging honesty regarding Chris Bosh’s health and future – as much truth as Riley could give even though he would have liked nothing more than to lift Miami fans with rosy assurances.
Those were the two pillar takeaways as Riley put to bed his 21st season as Heat leader and turned to fashion his 22nd.
The first is that the 7-1 Whiteside isn’t going anywhere. He will be a literal and figurative centerpiece moving forward. Miami will not be outspent and lose him. Nor will the Heat lose him chasing a longshot when free agency starts July 1. Riley did not rule out setting sights on an available superstar, “a whale,” as he put it, never mentioning Kevin Durant by name, but emphasized Whiteside as “our No. 1 priority, period.”
If only he were able to be as certain on Bosh.
“All of us, the doctors and also Chris, are looking to proceed forward to find a way to get him back on the court. I think that’s all we can say right now,” Riley said. “We are very encouraged by trying to find a way over the next two, three months to find a program and a protocol to get him back playing. That’s his desire. That would be our desire, too. But it’s going to have to be done in a way we all feel good about.”
Careful language, that is. Someone with Bosh’s proneness to blood clots should be on blood thinners and avoid physical contact and frequent air travel, things at odds with an NBA career. The Heat’s medical team has not yet found a way around this; they still are trying to find a way.
Riley called the continuing uncertainty with Bosh a “haymaker” and admitted it is “an X factor in everything we’re planning to do this summer.” It is one less reason a top target like (perhaps) Durant might choose Miami, which in turn is one more reason to make locking up Whiteside such a clear emphasis.
“You don’t have to look further than that,” Riley said. “There might be players out there in free agency, but he’s 26. He’s a game changer. State-of-the-art talent. I don’t think he’s even reached his ceiling. We think he is able to carry a team. That will take more discipline and growth. But I think he’s ready for that.”
Riley joked about buttering up Whiteside to stay with gift baskets full of chocolate Gummi bears and trips to Parrot Jungle.
That and at least $20 million a year ought to do it.
Riley believes the Heat’s core players – Whiteside, hopefully Bosh again, Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, graduated rookies Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson and ideally still Luol Deng – is a group to win with.
Riley admitted the franchise was in “a freefall” after LeBron unexpectedly left, but thinks that after one season out of the playoffs the Heat is on solid ground again.
“I really think we took a major step forward,” the team president said of this past season that ended one win shy of meeting LeBron in the Eastern Conference finals. “I’m never satisfied ending a season early, but we took a major step forward when you objectively look where we were two years ago.”
Riley, 71, will take a minute between now and the start of free agency to have a life, mentioning that he and wife Chris might start “catching up on Madame Secretary, Billions and House of Cards.”
But soon the basketball lifer will be back doing what he does, because it is almost Pat Riley season again.
He joked that the staff around him does so much that, “I can sit there in the dark and just stare at my screensaver and think of ways to get Micky [Arison] under the [salary] cap and win championships.”
Getting a fourth one of those is of an urgency Riley does not discourage.
“A really high ceiling and a high expectations – I don’t sell that as unreal; that’s my own expectation,” he said. “It’s up to me to create those kind of opportunities.”
In September 1995 the Miami Heat introduced its new hire aboard a cruise ship called Imagination.
Twenty-one years later Pat Riley is still creating, still imagining championship parades along Biscayne Boulevard.
Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.