Riley Factor: The road ahead
In Part II of a two-part series, Pat Riley adresses his future, LeBron's legacy, more
MIAMI -- Pat Riley knows he will have at least three advantages as the Miami Heat look to add to a championship roster this offseason.
The Heat president's track record for pulling off surprising personnel moves speaks for itself. The Heat are two weeks removed from winning a title, and the glow of the Larry O'Brien trophy tends to be enticing.
"We would probably talk to our key guys, only because players really know the other players," Riley said in regard to potential free-agent targets. "And they have their opinions about it. We would definitely run names by them, because I'd want to know what they'd think of them. These guys are pretty smart when it comes to evaluating talent."
Limited primarily to the mini-midlevel exception, which is worth $9 million over three years, the Heat will work from a familiar strategy in free agency. They'll bank on luring a productive veteran or two willing to sacrifice money for a chance to win a championship.
In the second part of our two-part breakdown of Riley's championship season exit interview, the Heat's architect addresses his team's needs, his future, LeBron James' legacy and the Heat's chances to establish the next dynasty.
Riley's focus, commitment
Regardless of the players available on the open market, the Heat's biggest focus each offseason is Riley.
The 67-year-old has been working off a year-to-year handshake agreement the past few seasons and had been setting the stage for his retirement and a move back to Southern California. But he doesn't seem to be in a hurry to exit the stage after seeing the Heat win their second championship in the past six years.
I hope it's just the beginning -- even for me -- in building this team” -- Pat Riley
I asked Riley if he was tempted to leave the game on top after winning his eighth title.
"I hope it's just the beginning -- even for me -- in building this team," Riley said. "I hope this team has a long run. I was with a Lakers team that had a 12-year run with a bunch of guys, and Jerry West was adding pieces to it. That's my job. My job is to keep trying to add pieces to it. I know we're in a different time now. But that's what I want to do. This is the beginning of trying to build something that I think can be very unique, and I'm excited about it."
Riley mentioned how his Lakers teams in the 1980s kept winning because they kept making smart additions to a Hall of Fame core. After losing in the NBA Finals last season to the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat signed Shane Battier, who played a vital role in this season's title breakthrough.
The future: small ball
It was Battier's role in the Heat's conversion to a small-ball style in the playoffs that helped pave the way to the championship. Riley said the Heat's goal is to add another player or two in free agency who can bring the same level of experience, smarts and versatility Battier brought -- especially with the team committed to its new style.
"Small ball is becoming a big thing in the league, and I think it's going to become even bigger," Riley said. "Whatever it takes to win. If Chris [Bosh] is playing the center, we have a legitimate power forward, and that's LeBron James, who is not a power forward. But he's 6-[foot]-8, 260 [pounds] and he gets 15 rebounds a game when he plays the 4-spot."
So even if straying from their traditional positions gives the Heat their best chance to keep winning titles, Riley said he believes James and Bosh should embrace it.
"If I have that kind of versatility, that all I have to do is move around a little bit to help the team and it equals a championship, I'm asking to play there a lot more," Riley said. "Now, I haven't talked to them like this, so I don't know how they feel about it. But we have one of the most versatile teams in the league and two of the most versatile players in Chris and LeBron that can help us do that."
Priorities in free agency
In the first part of our exit interview series, Riley made it clear he had five or six players targeted in free agency. But he wouldn't reveal much more than that.
Pressed further, Riley remained elusive but did discuss how any new player added would have to be capable of helping to space the floor and complement Miami's Big Three.
"There isn't any one specific thing ... it isn't any one player that can help us," Riley said. "If we can add a shooter, that can help us, because we're that kind of a team. If we can get a real big that had to be guarded and has some versatility, then we might try to go in that direction. If it's a 3-point shooter that is long and can defend, then we might go in that direction. There are a lot of areas you can go."
What seems clear is the one direction the Heat won't go in free agency: point guard. Riley said he's satisfied with current point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole, and with James and Wade handling the ball late in games, there doesn't seem to be a need for a traditional floor general.
Or, for that matter, a post-up, lane-clogging center.
"We found a formula in the playoffs," Riley said. "Erik [Spoelstra] and his staff dug down deep and found, throughout the course of the season ... we were a different team against New York [in the first round of the playoffs] than we were against Oklahoma City [in the Finals]."
What kind of team will the Heat be next season? Will they maintain the hunger that drove them in 2011-12 after losing to Dallas in the 2011 Finals?
Riley said one of his biggest regrets was that he decided to leave the Heat's 2006 championship roster intact, although it was clear that veterans such as Gary Payton and Antoine Walker saw the first title as validation enough.
But Riley said he believes the current Heat team is different. James, Wade and Bosh are still in the midst of their collective primes and want to build on this year's run.
"The championship felt great -- and it still does," Riley said. "But I'm over it. We're over it. And it's time to get on with trying to improve the team. One of things we have to think about, all of us, is how did we feel when we got beat by Dallas here? I saw guys falling down in the hallway here because of the disappointment and how discouraged they were. So whatever the players did last summer, I would advise them to go back to their cage and hibernate again. At least get back to that state of mind."
Even though James is now the only Heat player expected to play for Team USA in the 2012 Olympic Games, there still won't be a lot of time to savor the champagne from this title before next season begins.
Wade is scheduled to undergo left knee surgery, and Bosh continues to rehab a strained abdominal muscle he sustained during the second round of the playoffs. Riley hopes both players will be ready for the start of training camp in September. The offseason figures to be even shorter for the Heat, who expect to open the exhibition season with a trip overseas, possibly to China.
"It's a short two months, really," Riley said. "Before you know it, it'll be August. That basketball biological clock starts around August. Since we're probably going to be leaving the country in late September, we'll have to come early. Players are going to have to be very conscious about their conditioning and be ready to come back and defend."
LeBron's looming legacy
Of course, James will again set the tone for the Heat. He'll also likely define whether this Heat team will be one for the ages -- or one for the moment.
With three regular-season MVP trophies, a Finals MVP and his first ring at just 27 years old, James' best basketball might still be ahead of him. Barring injury, the prime of his career could run at least another four or five years.
On the day James accepted the regular-season MVP award in May, Riley said a breakthrough championship season for LeBron could open the title floodgates. He's that good. That remains the vision for Riley as the Heat look forward to the next few seasons.
"His game sort of looked like it changed," Riley said of James' play over the course of Miami's playoff run. "His greatest skill is that he's a great, great, great passer and he's unselfish. We know he's a great scorer. Only when he needs to win -- only when he knows he needs to win -- does he tell people to get out of the way and he'll score. When the game is not in the balance, he's just sort of dishing and orchestrating. He has a wonderful clock in how to read that situation. I hope his best years are ahead of him. It'll be great for all of us."
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