Pat Riley began his season-closing news conference by telling assembled reporters that he was "pissed." The Miami Heat president kept the hits coming from there.
During a session that reportedly lasted nearly an hour, Riley — the man who recruited LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Florida to team with Dwyane Wade in the summer of 2010, the man who built the Heat teams that have represented the Eastern Conference in the last four NBA Finals and won back-to-back titles in 2011-12 and 2012-13, and the man whose job it will be to revamp the Heat following a five-game beatdown at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs — addressed the sentiment, shared by some, that Miami might need a makeover after falling to 2-2 in the Finals since the "Big Three" came together.
"We don't need to rebuild," he said. "We need to retool. And that's what we're going to do."
He addressed concerns that James, Bosh and Wade, who have all met with Riley over the past two days, will exercise the early termination options in their contracts to become free agents this summer, possibly ending the superteam era after four seasons. He addressed — without naming any names — rumors that Heat brass are considering options that would allow the team to not only retain their three stars, but add a fourth in the form of Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks' All-Star forward who has said he intends to exercise his early termination option and test free agency this summer.
"That's a pipe dream," Riley said, echoing the note struck by James and Wade before Game 4 of the Finals. "But everybody thought 2010 was a pipe dream, too. I don't harbor that thought. That's not where we are headed. That's not what we're thinking about."
He reframed defeat as an opportunity, placed his trio of stars in the contexts of other successful squads that only became dynasties by rebounding together from tough losses, and he peppered both his opening monologue and answers to reporters' questions with terse laughs in the process.
He didn't seem to think it was all that funny, though. He seemed ... well, "pissed."
Watch for yourself:
Speaking four days after the Heat saw their bid for a third straight NBA championship end, Riley — who won four NBA championships as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s and another on the bench with the Heat in 2006, before shepherding the recent run of Finals appearances from the front office — emphasized the importance of having "a perspective about things" when evaluating the state of Miami's union.
"I think everybody needs to get a grip," Riley said. "Media, Heat players, organization, you know, all of our fans. You've got to get a grip on greatness, and on teams.
"I've been here for 45 years in the NBA, and I've witnessed dynasties. I've witnessed great teams. The '80s Lakers. Five championships in 12 years. So what does that mean? Seven times they didn't win."
And then, Riley winnowed his comments down to what amounts to an audience of three.
"They didn't run," Riley said. "They didn't win. You've got to deal with it. You've got to come back."
The beat went on, with Riley referencing the Boston Celtics teams against which his Lakers warred in the 1980s, which won only three championships; the Chicago Bulls of the late '80s and 1990s, who won six rings but didn't win every year; the Lakers of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, who won three titles but thrice failed to hoist the O'Brien; and the Spurs, who just vanquished Miami for their fifth title since the 1998-99, meaning they've lost out on the ultimate prize 11 times in this run.
"This stuff is hard," Riley said. "You've got to stay together, if you've got the guts, and you don't find the first door and run out of it if you have an opportunity. This is four years into this era, this team. Four Finals — it's only been done three other times before — and two championships. From Day 1 to the end, it was like a Broadway show. You sort of run out of steam. And we need to retool."
At issue, of course, is just how the Heat do that.
Even if Riley convinces James, Bosh and Wade to eschew their early termination options and return for another run at the ring next season, Miami would be well over the salary cap just by paying the Big Three (whose options total more than $61.3 million) alone. Add in the $2 million-plus coming to reserve point guard Norris Cole and the likelihood of quickly declining Heat stalwart Udonis Haslem picking up his $4.62 million player option, and you're up over $68 million for just a handful of guys.
Reserve big Chris Andersen, a game-changer when healthy who was hobbled in the Finals, reportedly plans to decline his bargain $1.45 million player option to test the market; bringing him back will cost the Heat more. Or potentially intriguing young frontcourt piece Justin Hamilton, whose minimum deal is unguaranteed; bringing him back will cost the Heat more. And we're just talking about retaining guys, not adding free agents — Miami will have some breathing room, thanks to the expected rise in the luxury tax line to $77 million, but its flexibility in importing talent will be limited to a pair of small trade exceptions (one from sending Joel Anthony to the Celtics worth $2.2 million, and one from sending Roger Mason Jr. to the Sacramento Kings worth just under $900,000) and the mid-level exception.
The most obvious answer, of course, would be convincing the Big Three to opt out before the June 29 deadline to inform the Heat of their intentions, and get them each to re-sign to longer deals at lower annual average salaries, creating the financial space to be able to import the next crop of Mike Miller, Shane Battier, Ray Allen or Rashard Lewis-alikes — although, ideally, younger, more athletic, and more likely to both beat somebody off the dribble and slide with somebody on defense — to get the Heat right back to the top of the East. If the Big Three opted out, Miami would have scads of cap space, perhaps as much as $51 million, to revamp the roster.
But four years after all three stars took pay cuts to join forces in Miami — and four days after James finished a season, and a series, in which he bore a greater burden than he had since he left Ohio, thanks in large part to the amnesty of Miller to save on Miami's luxury tax bill and the inability of the last crop of guys Riley brought in to help out — you'd understand it if James, Bosh and Wade (and, again, especially James) were reluctant to give up even more money. Even if doing so would show Riley they all had "guts."
"We have a chance to do something significant, but losing is just as much a part of it as winning is," Riley said. "And when you're a team, you deal with it.
"No, there was no hugging [after the end of the Finals], and there was no high-fiving. There's just looking around the room now and finding out who's going to stand up. This is time that you go home and take care of yourself, and look at yourself. What are you going to do to come back and make the team better?"
When James, Wade and Bosh come back to the negotiating table after their time away, you'd certainly understand it if they turned that question right back at Riley. Their answer would figure to depend heavily on his.
Other items of note from Riley's presser:
• RIley describes the difference between winning the Finals and losing it: "This has been a great run. It ended up like most losses ended up. I know what it is to win. We've watched it. The confetti drops, everybody hugs each other, kisses each other. Men are in embraces — 'I love you,' 'I love you,' 'Hey, bro, this is how it's going to be.' They punch each other and say, 'I told you it was going to be like this,' 'This is how it's going to be.' We're best friends off the court, even better friends off the court than we're players on the court. And it's true. That's what creates a forever bond. But what really cements it — cements a forever bond — is going through what we went through this year, and staying the course. I've been through that experience, and I know other teams have been through it."
• On LeBron saying he plans to take a vacation with his family and clear his mind before making his decision on whether to opt in or opt out: "I don't take anything away from what LeBron had to say. He has to get away and he has to think about it, like I used to think about it back in the '80s. Give me a week before I can be coherent with my thoughts, OK? A week from now, I'd probably talk differently than I'm talking today. But he has the right to do whatever he wants to do. [...] The four years that we've had here with LeBron, we hope turns into another eight or 10. That's how I'm looking at it."
• On the Heat's chances of retaining all three of their stars: "I'm confident that we are an organization that's been strong. Micky's been a great owner. We've got great leadership, great coaching, great discipline, great fans. I didn't come down here 19 years ago for a quick trip to South Beach and get a sun tan, I can guarantee you that. And I don't think they did either. I think all of those guys that have come here have gotten exactly what they wanted. They got the best competition on the biggest stage, and we won two of them [...] and we're going to go from there. And we hope that all those guys want to come with us."
• On how far owner Micky Arison is prepared to go to keep the club's core intact: "Whatever it takes to keep them together, we're ready for it. That's our objective." (A later addition, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "He will do anything to get those guys to come back. There has been a perception he doesn't want to pay the tax. That's B.S. He isn't asking anyone to take a cut to pay the tax. That's a voluntary thing from the player. We are not asking them to do that. Micky will do whatever he has to do to keep this team together.")
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