Pat Riley made a couple things pretty clear Wednesday:
Re-signing Hassan Whiteside will be the Miami Heat’s No. 1 priority this summer; he wants to keep the core of the team together along with a revitalized Dwyane Wade; and if there’s any way for Chris Bosh to get back on the court, he wants it to happen.
“We are trying to find a way over the next two or three months to find a protocol, a program that will get him back playing. That’s always been our objective and we’re in this together,” Riley said of Bosh, who missed every game after the All-Star break for the second year in a row in his continuing battle with blood clots.
“I think last year we were blindsided — and Chris was, too — by what happened to him,” Riley continued. “This year when it happened, we were in it eyes wide open with him. We all knew what the treatment was going to be last year. Now, we approach this in a way where if we can get Chris back out on the court — that’s his desire, and that would be our desire. But it’s going to have to be done in a way that we all feel good about it.”
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Bosh’s status was the first issue Riley addressed during his 46-minute, end-of-the-season press conference at AmericanAirlines Arena, a day after players and coach Erik Spoelstra wrapped up their own exit interviews.
Whiteside, who is due a big pay day this summer, was the next one.
And Riley made it clear the Heat is ready to invest in Whiteside and the “core players” who were a part of Miami’s 48-34 regular season and 14-game playoff run, which ended Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in Toronto.
“He’s obviously, I think, our No. 1 priority, period,” Riley said of the 7-foot center, who led the league in blocked shots, ranked in the top five in rebounding and field goal percentage, and finished third in votes for the Defensive Player of the Year.
“He’s 26 years old. He’s a game changer,” Riley continued. “I don’t think he’s even reached his real ceiling in a couple areas of his game that I think that now he’ll be more comfortable with once this situation ends. When a player spends six years of his career having everybody tell him why he’s not good enough to be in the NBA, I think when he gets an opportunity what he tries to do first is say ‘I’m going to show you I’m good enough to play in the NBA.’
“And what might be individually important might not be good for the team. Once that’s out of the way, I think the roof is the ceiling because he’s shown us all he can be 15 [points] and 15 [rebounds] and four blocks and 70 percent field goal guy. There are other layers to his game that I think he can be even better at.”
Riley said he plans to be next to Whiteside when the free agency period begins at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.
“I met with him the other day and asked him if he likes chocolate gummies in his gift baskets and if I needed to take him to Parrott Jungle or get him on a ferry ride around the city or show him the best locations to buy houses in Miami or a sightseeing tour,” Riley said.
“He’s had quite a journey over the last five or six years. He ended up here. We have him here and we want to keep him here. And he’s overcome a lot. But the question is and we’re going to ask him, we want you now to be able to carry a team and that’s going to take a lot more focus and discipline and growth and understanding about what winning’s all about. I think he’s ready for that. I think he’s got all the other stuff.”
Riley, of course, wouldn’t rule out chasing after other free agents or “whales” has he calls them.
But Whiteside and Wade, who had a phenomenal season at age 34, are at the top of Riley’s list. With $40 million in cap space, there probably won’t be room for much more unless Riley can get creative.
Wade, who signed a one-year, $20 million deal last summer, said Tuesday he’s hopeful the negotiations this offseason won’t be as tenuous as last year.
On Wednesday, Riley made it sound like Wade would be taken care of.
“This was better than any season he had when he was with the Big 3 and went to the Finals three years in a row and won two championships,” Riley said. “He wants to win I think as much as he wants to do anything. Compensation to a player is not just a way to get paid and live your life. Compensation to a player is about recognition and respect and a place. And so, we know where he belongs. He’s a lifer. What he’s done in this city over the last 13 years is irreplaceable. So, we want to do the right thing. There’s no doubt.”