Will Miami Heat break up 'Big Three'?
MIAMI -- For Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, this was always about establishing -- and maintaining -- a dynasty.
That was the priority during a contentious offseason in 2009, when the team president was at odds with his franchise player, Dwyane Wade, over a contract extension and how much help the team could afford at the time. Clearing the deck for a potential "dynastic" makeover remained the mission statement in the spring of 2010, at the end of another mediocre, unfulfilling season.
Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison spent the better part of three years plotting, planning and patiently piecing together the blueprint, ultimately surrounding Wade with LeBron James and Chris Bosh to form one of the most dynamic rosters in history.
So after finishing off their second straight NBA title and third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals, it's silly to think Riley and Arison would do anything other than ride this out until the rings stop piling up.
The championship champagne was still drenched on Riley's clothes when the Hall of Fame former coach made that clear.
"I just want this thing to keep going," the 68-year-old Riley said after the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs in Game 7 of an epic Finals. "I'm at an age now where I'm ready to just fly off somewhere. But I'm not going to because the Good Lord has blessed me with a team that's allowed me to grab onto its coattails for as long as they want to be together."
Break up the Big Three? Don't hold your breath.
Riley rarely speaks with the media these days. But on the rare occasion he does, he never, ever speaks out of turn. He's taken the same approach to his star trio: If James, Wade and Bosh -- who have clauses in their near-maximum contracts to opt out and become free agents after the 2013-14 season -- break up, it'll be because they no longer want to remain together.
After watching Miami become the second team in the past decade to win back-to-back titles, Arison didn't seem ready to rush to judgment, either.
"It feels incredible," Arison told reporters. "It feels so good, I'm actually talking to you guys. Where we were Tuesday when those [title ceremonial] ropes came out to where we are right now is an incredible roller coaster."
Arison is ultimately in control of where this ride takes the Heat, and last month he told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel the franchise was focused on winning this season's title and then returning with the core of James, Wade and Bosh intact for another run next season.
Should that happen, the Heat would face in excess of $20 million in luxury-tax penalties under the league's new collective bargaining agreement.
Decisions already await in the title afterglow. Before June 30, Riley must decide whether to exercise a $4 million team option on point guard Mario Chalmers' contract. Veteran shooting guard Ray Allen has a player option to return for $3 million next season and center Chris Andersen also has an option to return for another season at the $1.4 veteran's minimum.
"I think we're just getting started," Chalmers said. "So we're going to keep going. Hopefully, everybody comes back next year. We'll be ready to do this again."
They've certainly come a long way since their first Finals run together when they watched the Dallas Mavericks celebrate a title on their home floor.
"Our first year together, we tried to make it work," Wade said. "But we weren't the team that we needed to be to gut out a Game 6, to win a game like that. Everybody can't get to the Finals and win six [championships] in a row -- and not lose one like Michael Jordan. But we are excited about the future of this organization. We are still a good team, and we're going to do everything we can to make sure we stay competitive."
But in some ways, they remain a work in progress. While Riley said before the playoffs that he envisioned the Heat being like the Spurs, who kept Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for a decade, Wade said he, Bosh, and James haven't spoken as a group yet about how they'll approach their contract options after next season.
"This organization doesn't rest on trying to make sure we can put ourselves in a position to have a trophy like this," Wade said as he sat next to the Larry O'Brien Trophy. "So we'll be back next year again, looking to do it again. We're living in this moment right here, and it's a sweet moment. It'll be sweet to be able to have a long run like the Spurs, but we'll get to that when we get to that."
Before they do that, Wade must first address injuries to both knees. The 31-year-old guard said he doesn't expect to need surgery for either the multiple bone bruises he played with since March or for the swelling he endured in his left knee. Wade had surgery on the left knee last summer and spent the first half of the season in a methodical recovery process.
"We're going to heal him up, get his knees healed up," Riley said. "He's a great, great player. He's been judged rather harshly as a guy who's played with an injury for months. He came up big when it counted. We expect him to come up big, big, big for the next six or seven years."
The biggest domino in the equation, obviously, is James. He joined Jordan and Bill Russell on Thursday by becoming just the third player in history to win championships and MVP awards in back-to-back seasons.
James has repeatedly told the story of how he made a difficult decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that the move was necessary to put himself in position to win a championship every season. Although James has offered no hints regarding his future beyond an occasional private joke about retiring next season, he talked Thursday about the Heat continuing to build on their success.
"I hope so," James said. "I mean, this is what it's all about. I came here to win championships, and to be able to go back-to-back. Two championships in three years so far. It's the ultimate. I don't want to think about next year right now, what our possibilities are next year. I've got to take full advantage of this one. It's an unbelievable moment."
It wasn't so unbelievable for Riley. In fact, he essentially promised something like this would happen.
And ever since then, it's been all about maximizing every June.
Not one, not two …
"If we can keep this group together for eight, nine, 10 years, we're all going to have some fun," Riley said before the Heat headed into this season's playoffs.
One of Riley's biggest career regrets was bringing back that 2006 Heat title team for what turned out to be a disastrous season. Shaquille O'Neal and Antoine Walker stayed out of shape. Gary Payton and Jason Williams were no longer motivated.
That group around Wade was a one-hit wonder at the end of its road. This current Heat, with James leading the way, is in the midst of a championship stride.
Riley was loyal to a fault then. He's committed until the end now.
These champagne baths the Heat have taken in back-to-back seasons have been brewing for years. They might not be drying off any June soon.