Did you not think he was going to go out swinging? That he was going to sit quietly in the corner? That a long basketball career full of noise was going to ebb with a whisper?
Then you don’t know Pat Riley. Haven’t followed his career real closely.
Riley making something of nothing this summer for the Miami Heat — trading for star Jimmy Butler and now angling for an even bigger star in Russell Westbrook — is less surprising than if the Heat’s president had stood pat, OK with mediocrity and the hope something might happen a couple of summers from now, maybe.
Instead, the Heat’s godfather is flexing all of the creativity and ingenuity in his toolbox in an impatient desperation to be relevant again, now, not later. Riley is 74 now. When my grandmother was that age she used to like to say “you don’t buy green bananas.” You don’t trust tomorrow. Carpe diem.
The minute Kawhi Leonard decided to leave the NBA ‘s Eastern Conference for the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency, the East became wide open. So with no spending money Riley managed to work a four-team trade to get Butler from Philadelphia. Now, still hard-cap-strapped, his Heat is seen as the front-runner to acquire Westbrook from Oklahoma City.
This is called seizing the day. And the opportunity.
Miami was unable to be an offseason player for the available whales, for orcas like Leonard, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, but he has made the most of the next level despite the financial constraints. If he pulls off the Westbrook deal, and comes out of this with two legit stars with a combined 12 All-Star appearances, he will have made the most of less than any power broker in the NBA.
To get Butler in the complicated four-way maneuver required one miracle: Finding a taker for overpriced Hassan Whiteside, who Miami wanted to divest of anyway.
Getting Westbrook now will be costlier. Miami will have to give up assets to make this work financially. The Heat hope OKC might want Goran Dragic as part of the package. Speculation is the Thunder might demand young assets Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow and recent top draft pick Tyler Herro.
That’s a lot to give up. You do it anyway. Westbrook is a former NBA MVP still in his prime at 30. Butler is 29. If they give Miami a three- or four-year window of at least being competitive in the East, well, that’s more than the Heat has been most of the past five seasons, post Big 3 era. And Riley is a not a man to go out an inch above .500 and scrambling for an eighth seed.
I am told Heat owner Micky Arison may not be as big a fan of Westbrook as Riley is, but I’d be shocked if that ended up a deal-breaker. Not if Riley were adamant and if coach Erik Spoelstra (and Butler, as a courtesy) gave a thumbs up.
There is mutual interest between the Heat and Westbrook, who wanted out of OKC the minute they undercut him by suddenly trading Paul George to the Clippers. The mutual interest was affirmed by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, and when Woj says there is mutual interest, it is to NBA news like a papal blessing at the Vatican.
You can parse Westbrook’s imperfections if you like. Iffy shot selection at times. Not great from three-land.
But this is a prolific scorer if you need that, a great assist guy. He is a colorful superstar who makes you better, and also a heck of a lot more interesting.
Riley is a 10-time NBA champion as player, coach, assistant or front office executive, including Heat crowns in 2006, 2012 and 2013. The perfume of success is on him like a tattoo. He’s had too much of it to not be addicted until the very end.
Riley authored “Showtime “ championships with the Lakers and coached Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Had Patrick Ewing in his prime in New York.
In Miami, he engineered a blockbuster trade for Alonzo Mourning, and later another for Shaquille O’Neal. Drafted a generational prize in Dwyane Wade. Brought in LeBron James and Chris Bosh to form a (short-lived) dynasty.
This is a man who always has loved star power, worn it like he does those Armani suits. It fits him.
With Wade retired he was facing a rarity in the 2019-20 season: A Riley team with no stars.
Butler changes that. Now, Westbrook would double-down on the hand Riley is playing.
There is a risk. Riley is gambling the future for the now. Josh Richardson already is gone. If it takes Adebayo, Winslow and Herro to get Westbrook, Miami’s young core will be elsewhere. And the team has no first-round draft picks it is able to trade until 2028. Miami could risk lean times down the road, post-Butler/Westbrook.
Miami should hope Westbrook’s reported desire to play in Miami carries weight with Oklahoma City, which might be flexible as a gesture to the 11 years’ service Westbrook gave the Thunder. (Maybe flexible enough to let the Heat keep Adebayo, at least? I might play hard-ball on that, if I were Riley. Offer Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Kelly Olynyk — almost anyone to keep Bam.)
Not all Heat fans love what Riley is doing, surely.
You could argue Butler and Westbrook are at the far end of their prime. Or that Miami potentially is giving up too much youth, too much future, for a now that would still be a third star from real contention.
You cannot argue this, though:
Pat Riley has a track record. Addiction to winning has served him pretty well. And in the pursuit of it, impatience is not always a bad thing.