Barry Jackson

Pat Riley addresses Heat’s future: ‘It will be much better than it is now.’

Heat president Pat Riley said Sunday that he expects his team to make the playoffs and again offered an optimistic view of the future, even with his franchise standing six games below .500 and 10th in the East.

Speaking at the Heat’s annual charitable Family Fest event at AmericanAirlines Arena, Riley also said the team, if it chooses, is positioned to create even more cap space that the $33 million-to-$39 million or so it has available in 2020, when Miami wants to augment its roster through a trade or free agency.

Asked if his team is underachieving, Riley said: “I have high expectations. I have always had them. [Erik Spoelstra] has them. I believe our players not only believe in the expectations but we’re right now in a wonderful stretch drive. It’s competitive.

“Our last 10 games with the exception of Denver, Detroit, right down to the wire. This whole thing is going to go down to the wire and we’re going to make the playoffs and that’s what it’s about. High expectations… sometimes you don’t get to where you want and you do what you have to do to make the playoffs and that’s where we are.”

But would it be acceptable to make the playoffs with a record below .500?

“I don’t care,” Riley said. “It’s all relative. That’s the way the league is. The league has tremendous parity. There might be six who you would consider to be real viable contenders for a championship. There might be six teams at the bottom that are viable candidates for the lottery. There are 18 of us in the middle of the pack trying to find our way to the top. We’re not happy with that. But we’ll deal with it.”

Riley – who in the past has spoken of winning and misery – seems to accept the Heat’s current lot. When a reporter noted that more than half the teams make the playoffs, Riley said:

“So what? That’s where we are. Enjoy it. There are a lot of people out here who enjoy this little race. You just saw a wonderful shot by Dwyane [Wade] against Golden State,… a [blowout of the Nets]. Detroit comes in and gets us bad. This is all part of the battle. Then you just move on to what’s next and what’s next here will be determined on what happens next year.”

Asked if the Heat might be able to make a couple of significant additions this summer – with the team already well above the salary cap – Riley said: “Not next season. 2020 is a room year, could be a significant room year.”

In response to two newspaper columns – including one in The Miami Herald – saying the Heat lacks sufficient cap space to add more than one max player, at most, in 2020, Riley said: “If you want to do the math any way you want to do the math and say we can’t do it, then you don’t have big dreams like I do or how we’ve operated here. Clearing space is easy. You just watch the New York Knicks do it and what was their price in doing it. You watch the Clippers do it and what was their price in doing it.

“You can do it if you want to do it, but you have to get a good feeling that the reason why you’re going to do it is you’re going to get two [high-end players]. You have flexibility and that’s what the possibility of having room does for you. If you get an indication something good can happen that year, you go for it. If you don’t , you just keep plugging away. We have the two picks [first-rounders in 2019 and 2020]. We have a lot of assets. We have cash, we have exceptions. We will improve the team. It will be much better than it is now.”

Riley addressed other issues:

Asked if he has determined if Justise Winslow is a starting NBA point guard, period, Riley said: “You have to get rid of that. I am not comparing him to LeBron or comparing him to anybody else his size who really never was a point guard, just a player. Justise’s overall versatility as a player – his toughness, his mental toughness, his IQ for the game and his drastic improvement over the past year.

“This is a wonderful experiment that we’ve tried and Spo has the confidence in him and he’s basically a primary ball handler. James Johnson… Goran Dragic… Dwyane Wade… Dion Waiters [are] primary ball handlers.

“ I think he’s had one of the great years. I don’t think there’s any doubt - and he won’t get it because there’s too much negative press out there on him based on what he was a year ago or two years ago – is he should be one of the most improved players in the league. He does more for us across the board than most guys do for their team in one category.”

On James Johnson and Dion Waiters and whether they’re meeting the team’s conditioning standards:

“You don’t get to see the numbers every week I do. They’re making their numbers. Based on their injuries and the fact they’ve missed a lot of time, it’s very hard to stay in world class condition. They’re working at it every day. If they were not making their numbers, I don’t think they would be on the court. Because of their injury past, they don’t get a pass on anything but they’re making their numbers. They just got to go harder on it.

“It isn’t about conditioning with those guys, it’s about performance. With them and performance with everybody else. What is the result? The result over the past two years has been this, which is we’re competing for a playoff spot.”

On Wade’s final NBA season: What he has meant to this team and city is magical. I’m loving every single minute of what he’s doing. He’s doing an incredible job. I hope he gets out of this what he wants.”

The Heat raised $543,000 for South Florida charities at Sunday’s event.

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