Barry Jackson

Why Heat players are so appreciative of Pat Riley and Riley’s message to fans

Miami Heat president Pat Riley shares some experiences about former Miami Heat player Shaquille O'Neal at a press conference before the Heat retires his No. 32 jersey during a special halftime ceremony of the Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thurs., Dec. 22, 2016.
Miami Heat president Pat Riley shares some experiences about former Miami Heat player Shaquille O'Neal at a press conference before the Heat retires his No. 32 jersey during a special halftime ceremony of the Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Thurs., Dec. 22, 2016. pportal@miamiherald.com

When Derrick Williams praised Pat Riley (”man of his word; ultimate respect”) on Twitter earlier this week, it was primarily to express appreciation for the Heat president releasing him to allow him to catch on with a team where he can earn more playing time.

But Williams, during a chat at his locker earlier this season, and other Heat players also express gratitude for the role that Riley has taken in their lives since they joined the Heat.

Riley, behind the scenes, has offered counsel and encouragement for Heat players, but does it in a way without ever stepping on the toes of his coaching staff. Several players offered insight on what Riley does beyond his personnel-czar duties.

Williams said he would visit Riley in his office all season and Riley showed him “clips of guys he wants me to be like.” Williams declined to identify those players but said Riley spoke to him about once a week and tried “to help me do better. He gives encouragement, says he sees a bright future for myself and that nothing is easy.”

(Williams agreed to terms with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, according to multiple reports.)

While the Heat coaching staff has helped extract more from Dion Waiters, the fifth-year guard also raves about the impact Riley has had on him.

“I couldn’t ask for a better place and first and foremost, having a guy like Pat Riley, who’s seen it all,” Waiters said. “The whole coaching staff and organization, how we do things, just the talks I have with him, I needed it to shape me into who I am and who I’m becoming.

“Pat and I talk about off the court stuff: life, fatherhood. We talk about basketball stuff, too. I might go to his office if I haven’t seen him in a while, pick his brain. It’s great. Me and coach [Erik Spoelstra] have great communication too.”

Riley recently told Waiters that he’s proud of him.

“I never met him in person before this,” Waiters said. “The confidence he had in me before any of this was [key]. He said he’s been watching from afar, and that makes you smile because somebody acknowledges your talent.”

Pat Riley talks about Shaquille O'Neal's tenure with the Miami Heat prior to the team retiring O'Neal's number.

Hassan Whiteside said he and Riley have had at least five substantive conversations this season and “you can’t even imagine how much I value them. It’s 60 to 70 percent about life, 30 percent basketball. He's got so much basketball insight. It's not too many people where their office is always open for you like that.”

His message to Whiteside? “He says: ‘Trust the process. You're a great player; you know that. It will be up and down for you, but stay with it, and as long as you stay with it and stay a good guy, everything is going to work out for you.’”

For Willie Reed, Riley’s message has been to “continue to bring that high motor energy.”

For Rodney McGruder, the message is a simple one: “’Keep working hard.’ He likes my work ethic. I feel I should shake his hand every time I see him. You have to pay respect to a legend like that. [This offseason], I want to ask him, ‘What do you think I need to improve on?’ He’s coached the greatest of the greats.”

Tyler Johnson, after a lengthy one-on-one conversation with Riley earlier this season, said: “I try to stop by to talk to him as much as possible. Pat never has a shortage of things he has to tell you. Sometimes it's about ball. Sometimes it's about life.

“He gives you a different perspective of it because he's been a player, a coach, a GM. He understands basketball from all angles. He gives you insight you wouldn't otherwise have.”

So if you ask if Riley, at 71, can still relate to players like he once did, can still command a room, don’t have any questions about that.

• Meanwhile, Riley is expected to explore moves before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

One name we’ve been told is on Miami’s radar: Orlando forward Serge Ibaka, an impending free agent for whom the Magic reportedly is willing to consider offers.

He has averaged 14.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and shot 38.6 percent on threes and is in his prime at 27.

It’s unclear whether the Heat has assets that the Magic wants, or how aggressively Miami will pursue this. But Ibaka intrigues the Heat.

• Riley, at a Heat season ticket event last week, said (courtesy Fox Sports Sun): “I think you’re seeing the real Heat team right now. I mean, you’re seeing what we thought this team could be. Where it can go, it’s up to them. But you see a game out there that they’re playing that’s so exciting I want to be here every night. I can’t wait to see what happens. I’ve been in the NBA 50 years. I’m excited to come here every night.”

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