Barry Jackson

Heat’s Riley dishes on Waiters, Whiteside, Lakers opening and a lot more

Pat Riley addressed several issues involving Heat players in his Saturday press conference at AmericanAirlines Arena:

Riley said it’s incumbent upon Erik Spoelstra to figure out how to play Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo together at times.

“I know Erik and I know he’s going to look into every possibility because he knows both are athletic, great rim protectors, both great lob guys and somehow he has to figure out how that can become an effective tandem,” Riley said. “I can give him some help on that because I have a background in coaching.”

Asked if it makes sense to play Whiteside- his highest paid player - just 17 minutes a game over the final 19 games (as the Heat did), Riley said: “We will have a discussion about that. We already have talked about that. The word positionless came into this league because of the way the game is played offensively.

“The biggest change in some players’ careers who didn’t deserve to have the change were these ridiculous defensive rules where you cannot any longer guard the ball…. Because you can’t put your hand on anybody, you’ve got to move your feet. Teams got to switching and zoning, trying to scheme up ways to do things that made you even a worse defensive team.

“There are a dozen players like Hassan, where all of a sudden, people said he can’t play in a run and gun three-point game, switching game. I don’t believe it. I am sure when Erik and I sit down it’s cultivating something in the type of game he’s good at coaching. You can go to a real power lineup [at times]. The Rockets with [Clint] Capela and [Kenneth] Faried don’t have a problem, but give me [James] Harden and [Chris] Paul.”

On Dion Waiters, who needs to get in better shape: “I do not want to insult Dion with my favorite word for Tim Hardaway. There is no doubt Dion Waiters is a level away from his maximum potential. He really has been playing this year on 1 1 /2 ankles. The surgery he had was extensive. It wasn’t just one part of his ankle. It took him a year. You could see him gaining his stride at the end of the season.

“From a conditioning standpoint, Spo and I are on the same page. Whatever number he comes back at, it will be to his benefit. You will see the explosiveness. He will be able to get to the rim a little bit more. While he weighed in at numbers that were accepted [by Heat standards], that’s where the tightening of the screws come into play. I won’t be using a single screwdriver. I will be using a Black and Decker.

“I talked to him yesterday. He knows. He has five months. If he gets his conditioning to world class condition, he can get back [to where he was for 25 excellent games two years ago]. I’m confident he will do it. His career is on the line.”

In the wake of Magic Johnson’s resignation, Riley ruled out going back to the Lakers’ front office and said he “absolutely” will finish his career in Miami.

“I’m not going to comment on another team’s misfortune while they’re going through some adversity right now,” Riley said. “I was there for 20 years and I have a lot of friends still in the organization. I had a good conversation with Magic after he stepped down and I’m sure they’ll work it out. I’m not going to be part of that. That’s not what I want to do.”

Might the Heat replace Goran Dragic’s deal for $19 million (his player option next season) with a multiyear deal at lower money?

“Now you’re getting to a discussion I haven’t had with his agent or Goran,” Riley said. “You have to give the player time to think about it. We have to take a look at what our priorities are. If room is going to be one of [our objectives] in 2020, that would stop any longer deal with any one of them.”

On not making the playoffs, Riley said: “This was very disappointing. The coaching staff did everything they could. They’re hard working, they’re good men. They prepare and they care. … I want all of them to go home for two weeks and just do nothing, but fill up notebooks though of how we can improve.” Riley added that he’s going to bring notebooks to Malibu, Calif., to fill them up with his own ideas this offseason.”

▪ He said his team “has not come together like I thought it would.” Riley said he believed the team “for sure” would have been in the top half of the Eastern Conference this season.

Riley acknowledged you still need stars to win big: “You have to do everything you can to try to get a superstar or two.”

Riley said “how we lost games at home really upsets me.” Miami was 19-22 at home.

Riley on Dwyane Wade’s final season: “This was pure love. And it muted to some extent the emotional disappointment on the part of the organization and our staff [about] not making the playoffs three of the last five years.“

Riley said he has no interest in tanking because “becoming real bad and go for top five picks the next four or five years, you have to be really bad to do that. It’s hard to finish in the bottom five but if you’re ever sniffing around that area, then you can take it down. I’ve done that fast. I’ve done it 2003 and 2008.”

But he said he will not tank with this team.

On Udonis Haslem and whether he will return next season: “Udonis needs to chill and think about it. I don’t want him to make the decision right now. It’s a hard job for a warrior to do.”

Riley likes the upside of Duncan Robinson and Yante Maten, who both got two-year contracts for $3.1 million (some guaranteed) in recent days: “I give Duncan and Yante As. They dominated the league [G-League] the way you want them to dominate. That was the best team in the league for a while. We think both of them can develop and you don’t know how far they can go.“

Riley said he still sees room for improvement from James Johnson, as he distances himself from sports hernia surgery last May.

“He was 278 pounds and 15 percent body fat [when he arrived in the summer of 2016],” Riley said. “We always liked his game. We always felt he was a contemporary 6-9 power forward who could do a lot of things. He was a defensive guy. He went from 276 to 240. He lost seven percent body fat. We felt like he took the deep dive to conditioning.

“There is another level he can go to. Based on his injury, I would suggest he would do that. That takes tremendous discipline and the right approach and a very knowledgeable nutritionist that can work with him. The one thing that set him back was the stomach surgery. It was pretty much his whole stomach. It was very difficult surgery. When your whole game is predicated on your groin and stomach muscles, it’s hard to come back. He just wasn’t the same. He just didn’t have that explosiveness.”

Riley revealed that he had a deal in place that would have given James Johnson and Dion Waiters two-year contracts instead of four-year deals had Gordon Hayward signed with the Heat in 2017.

Instead, Riley gave them four-year deals after Hayward committed to Boston.

“On July 1, I didn’t want to be left with nobody,” RIley explained. “After five days of Gordon having to make a decision, I didn’t want to lose some players we had. I do know James had a deal [elsewhere if Miami didn’t sign him]. It was my decision. I didn’t want to lose all three of them.”

But why sign Waiters and Johnson and sacrifice so much cap space, with Miami projected to be more than $35 million above next season’s cap unless Whiteside and Dragic surprisingly opt out?

“We weren’t thinking of room after we lost Kevin Durant and Hayward,” Riley said. “We were thinking we had that 30-11 team come back [Miami’s record in the second half of the 2016-17 season]. We thought the contracts we gave were longterm contracts. That’s on me. You can put that all on me. We didn’t land Hayward and I didn’t want [to lose] the other two guys....

“It was time to move on from being or searching for room. … To move into a two or three-year window with the young players that we drafted and others that we thought were on-the-brink-to-make-it veterans. What we found out was that we had a very competitive team.” But Riley said it was a “some of the time thing” and other times a “none of the time thing.”

Riley bemoaned Miami’s luck, saying: “We’ve also had some real adversity, untimely.”

Riley said he thought if Chris Bosh had stayed healthy, he believed the Heat has a “finalist team” after trading for Goran Dragic

Asked if Justise Winslow should be mostly a point guard or play multiple positions, Riley said: “He’s our primary ball handler to get us into offense. We don’t have a conventional offense. When you ran conventional offense, with a lot of set plays, the league has very few conventional offenses today.

“James Johnson is a primary ball handler. Justise, Goran, any number of players can get us into our offense to start trigger actions. Justise has really flourished in this kind of offense, which is unconventional. He has really improved and he believes now in what our coaches are teaching him. His ball handling, getting to the basket, finally finishing. He has a real good IQ for the game. All three of our guys do [Winslow, Richardson, Adebayo].

“Justise’s improvement as is Josh’s improvement, and Bam’s, last 19-20 games, is indicative of a nice little core of young players; we can add [Derrick Jones Jr] to that and our pick this year and that will be good on the eyes of some possible free agents who want to come here – that’s all part of being an attractive place.

“The weather and the state taxes are great, but they want to come to an organization that has a chance to win and I believe we have proven that in 23 years I’ve been here.”

Riley said this draft is “deeper than what people say. I am not going to name names but I’ve seen 30 players that are very good players. At 13, I do think we would get something equivalent to who we have on our team right now, Bam, Justise, Josh and Derrick Jones Jr.”

The Heat could have $35 million or more in cap space in the summer of 2020, but the free agent class that summer isn’t great beyond Anthony Davis, Demar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Draymond Green.

Riley said “having room doesn’t mean you have to sign anybody. You can take players into room. Room is valuable for a number of reasons. You don’t have to just save it for an unrestricted free agent. We could be a bank to get picks and taking one-year deals, which I don’t like doing because it means you’re really bad. Maybe we just want to bank it. I’ve never been a bank before.”

Please click here for colleague Anthony Chiang’s story on what Riley had to say about his disappointment and big picture issues.

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