It is difficult to spin this summer so that it comes out as anything but an overall loss for Pat Riley and his Miami Heat.
Yes, the Heat kept largely intact the roster that went 30-11 in last season’s second half, notably retaining both Dion Waiters and James Johnson while also adding free agent Kelly Olynyk.
But if the overarching aim is to be the Eastern Conference power that gets to the NBA Finals for a chance to slay the mighty Golden State Warriors, it’s hard to see that the summer has been anything but cruel to Riley.
He went hard after top free agent Gordon Hayward of Utah. And Miami was a finalist. Came close. But the Boston Celtics — and Riley’s rival Danny Ainge — won the Hayward sweepstakes instead.
Then Riley went hard after Kyrie Irving, suddenly available after begging a trade from Cleveland, with the Heat one of five teams that reportedly made firm bids for Irving. But, again, it was Boston and Ainge who came out winners.
The bottom line? The top tier in the East has separated itself. It’s now the Cavaliers and Celtics, though no longer necessarily in that order, with the Heat among teams realistically jockeying for third-best.
Boston adds Hayward and Irving to a team that had the best record in the conference last season. And Cleveland, which still has whatshisname LeBron James for at least one more season, gets not only Isaiah Thomas in the Irving deal but also a 2018 No. 1 draft pick and an unheralded piece in Jae Crowder, a strong defender and 3-point shooter.
The argument could be made the Cavs actually improved with the Irving deal (assuming Thomas’ good health) and will be better at least for this coming season, and that the Celtics have positioned themselves to take over as East powers when James leaves Cleveland — if not as soon as this season.
This has been the NBA summer of major moves, and the Heat has swung big and missed — twice.