The NBA season has ended for Miami, but that always means the next best thing for Heat fans. That means it is Pat Riley season. That means we are about to see at work the never-satisfied club executive who is splendidly allergic to uneventful offseasons.
The Heat’s roster architect knows no team is good enough unless it is the one throwing itself a championship parade — and maybe not even then. Unbowed at 71, Riley knows there are always ways to be smarter or bolder or better than everybody else.
Sometimes it is with fireworks and cymbals, like trading for Alonzo Mourning and then three months later for Tim Hardaway; or drafting Dwyane Wade; or acquiring Shaquille O’Neal.
Sometimes it is even with a league-quaking, legend-making blockbuster like convincing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to join forces with Wade.
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More often is it with quieter gem-finding, like signing an undrafted Udonis Haslem, seeing a great future coach in film-room nerd Erik Spoelstra, resurrecting a risk in Hassan Whiteside, or hitting a second-round jackpot with Josh Richardson.
Loud or small, there are ways, always. There are moves to be made.
Guaranteed, long before the final whistle ended Sunday’s Game 7 in Toronto and ended Miami’s season one win shy of LeBron and Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals, Riley already was on mental fast forward, mind whirring ahead to his 22nd Heat season and the map to a next championship.
Offseasons are rarely dull under Riley, but this one figures to be more interesting than most — probably the franchise’s biggest since 2010, the summer of LeBron.
Six years later, Miami’s to-do list starts with a marquee of Whiteside, Bosh, Wade … oh, almost forgot, and Kevin Durant. Not necessarily in that order.
Wade’s rejuvenated season and strong postseason only increased his value even at 34, likely making him closer to a $20 million per year player than a $10 million bargain to re-sign. But keeping D-Wade should be the easy part (if a bit costlier) because there is such strong mutual interest in him staying.
Then it gets complicated, though, as Riley aims as high as it gets with Durant, who will be the NBA’s biggest prize when free agency begins on July1.
Everybody wants Durant and nobody (right now) seems to see Miami as a likely landing spot. Then again six years ago the Heat was not the betting favorite for LeBron, either. That Riley loves a challenge might be stated unequivocally.
Miami’s pursuit of Durant is complicated, though, because it is intertwined with the health and future of Bosh and with the interest in keeping Whiteside.
Playing alongside the all-star Bosh would be a large bargaining chip for Miami in trying to woo Durant. But Bosh missed half of the past two seasons related to blood clots — something that remained enough a concern to erase him from the 2016 playoffs.
If there is every expectation and confidence Bosh will be medically cleared to continue his Heat career next season without fear of recurrence, then that is something the club needs to make public and be clear about as soon as possible. Because the lingering doubts — including speculation Bosh might simply decide to retire — create an anxious climate that would make Miami much less attractive to top free agents thinking championship, notably Durant.
Another challenge for Riley will be simultaneously pursuing Durant and angling to re-sign Whiteside long-term. That very likely is an either/or for Miami. For financial and other reasons, landing Durant probably would mean letting Whiteside go.
But Durant, holding all the power, will be considering many offers — including staying in Oklahoma City — and won’t be in a hurry to decide, let alone be rushed.
So Miami might well be in a position of being forced into a choice on whether to spend to keep Whiteside while still courting and being in abeyance on Durant.
All it takes is one other team offering Whiteside max money to force the hand of Miami, which will try to convince the center to accept less here but might have no choice but to match a competing offer.
The clear priority is somehow landing Durant.
The doomsday scenario would be not getting Durant, and losing Whiteside and continuing to be unsure of Bosh’s future.
The latter nightmare is not impossible, but neither is it likely.
All we can know for certain right now is that the next two months will be anything but dull around here.
There are no sure bets what will happen, but we have learned it is seldom a bad idea to bet on Pat Riley.
Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.