Miami twice? Riley talks title defense
Despite winning the championship, the architect of the Heat sees work ahead
MIAMI -- As Pat Riley contemplated his free-agency plan heading into the summer of 2010, the view from the top of the Miami Heat organization was to assemble a team that could potentially be the NBA's next dynasty.
Two years, two NBA Finals appearances and one championship later, the vision appears to be on track.
"We've won two titles in the last six years," Riley said, counting the Heat's just-completed title run this past season in addition to the 2006 championship. "We have a compelling, contending team. It excites me to try to make it better. We're a contender. We'll be the defending champion next year.
"But as long as you have a chance, and feel like you can improve this team, then that's what it's all about."
Perhaps the old Riley, the cocky and flamboyant coach from those days with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s, would have taken this moment to guarantee a repeat run for the Heat. But the older Riley, who bears the wrinkles, graying hair and battle scars from the journey Miami has been on these past two seasons, knows it won't be that easy.
Even with LeBron James at the peak of his career, Chris Bosh proving to be as vital as any player on the roster and Dwyane Wade promising to have plenty of productive years left, Riley isn't taking anything for granted.
He still has work to do. And Riley, the franchise's 67-year-old point man, insists he's as committed to building on what the team accomplished this season as he's ever been.
In a wide-ranging interview with reporters that ran after midnight Friday morning, Riley talked about his team's championship run this season and where his team goes from here. This is the first of a two-part series that will conclude with the rest of Riley's breakdown on Saturday.
The draft decision
The Heat dealt the draft rights to the No. 27 pick, Mississippi State big man Arnett Moultrie, to the Philadelphia 76ers to acquire a future first-round pick that is lottery protected through the 2015 season. Miami also acquired the draft rights to the No. 45 pick, LSU forward-center Justin Hamilton.
While the decision to defer on taking in a first-round pick this year allows the high-salaried Heat to avoid additional luxury-tax ramifications, Riley said the move was more about gaining an asset that could also turn into a better draft position than the No. 27 slot as soon as next year. Additionally, Riley said the Heat needed to replenish some of the draft picks they lost in acquiring LeBron James and Chris Bosh to complete sign-and-trade deals in 2010.
"The players that we had on the board were not there at the time, and we felt we had a great option with Philly to be able to get a future first next year," Riley said. "It's lottery protected, but it could be 10 or 11 picks better than this year. So we have back-to-back first-round picks [the next two seasons] and all of our second-round picks."
Heat forward Mike Miller will apparently hold off on a potential retirement decision until he sees how his body responds in the offseason to extended rest. Miller, who could be facing back surgery, has said in the days after Miami won a championship that he hopes to come back next season. He has three years remaining on his contract.
Riley said there were no plans for the Heat to use the amnesty clause on Miller, and that the veteran swingman would take a few weeks to see how his body recovers. Riley joked that if he could get another 25-point effort from Miller in a Finals-clinching game next season, he'd be willing to let him sit out the entire regular season to rest.
"The update is that he's going to probably spend a couple of weeks just letting everything just cool down," Riley said. "He has been examined. There hasn't been any real prognosis from the standpoint that this is what we're going to do.
"But I think we're going to calm it down, treat it and rehab it ... before the doctor makes the final decision."
Wade skipping Olympics
Hours after Wade announced his decision to have surgery on his left knee and sit out of the London Olympics, Riley said he believed it was the best move for the guard's future.
Wade had been dealing with knee soreness for months, and had to have his knee drained on at least a couple of occasions, including during the second-round playoff series against Indiana. The Heat expect Wade to go through two to three months of rehab after surgery in the coming days. But the hope is that Wade will be ready for training camp in late September, with the team expecting to travel overseas, possibly to China, for a series of exhibitions.
"This is a big year for Dwyane," Riley said. "The guy has played with a style over the years that might not be conducive to longevity. He's always on the floor, he's always above the rim. We want to make sure that ... what's ailing him will be correct.
"He's committed to, at age 30, a young 30, that he can sort of reinvent whatever it is he has to do from a health standpoint, athletic standpoint, a weight standpoint, a conditioning standpoint and get himself ready for next year. So I think he made a wise choice."
Bosh also has backed out of his Olympic commitment in order to continue his recovery from an abdominal strain that sidelined him for three weeks in the playoffs before he returned in the conference finals. Riley said Bosh had continued to deal with soreness after games in the Finals against Oklahoma City, and supports his decision to rest over the summer.
Keeping the core intact
With the league's new collective bargaining agreement set to impose stiffer penalties after next season on teams that exceed the luxury-tax threshold, Riley said the Heat might soon have to reconsider their spending approach.
Heat billionaire owner Micky Arison has long stated a willingness to pay the luxury-tax bill if the team remained competitive for a championship. The team has paid the luxury tax for several seasons, but the cost of keeping the Heat's championship core together beyond its title defense next season may potentially reach into the $20 million tax range.
"We talk about what might happen two years from now," Riley said of conversations with Arison. "He loves winning championships. But there's also a limit, regardless of that. And we have to be very conscious of that.
"Micky has always had the opinion that if you give him the right name, and the right name can lead this team to the promised land, in the past, he's always said, 'Yes.' "
But the future landscape will make it increasingly expensive to keep championship-caliber teams intact.
"With what's going on with today's collective bargaining agreement, and how punitive it is, and with the bite he has to take with the revenue-sharing standpoint, it's got to be considered," Riley said of potential cost-cutting personnel moves after next year. "But that's going to be his decision."
With the free-agency negotiating period opening Sunday, Riley and the Heat have primarily targeted "five or six" players they feel can help the team defend the title.
The lure of the championship ensures prospective free agents will be recruiting the Heat as much as Riley, James, Wade and Bosh will be reaching out to other players. Among those who reportedly have already expressed interest in hearing a Heat sales pitch are veterans Steve Nash, Jason Terry, Ray Allen, Grant Hill and Greg Oden.
Riley is almost certain to make calls to prospects who would seem to be priced outside of the Heat's spending capabilities while limited to the mini midlevel exception contract set at $3 million a year for three seasons. The Heat expressed previous interest in soon-to-be free-agent bigs such as Chris Kaman, Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin.
"[We] go into free agency with an open mind, knowing what we have and the level we can go to with it," Riley said of finding players to complement Miami's Big Three and fit in with the team's versatile lineups. "We're encouraged we can talk to some players that may be interested in taking a little bit less. There's a lot of room out there this year, but there aren't many teams that have a chance, really, to win a title.
"I think a lot of veteran players might be interested in something like that. So, we've got five or six guys earmarked that we'll talk to. And we'll see where it goes."