The end isn’t here, but it’s coming. Miami sports has had nobody else like Heat’s Pat Riley | Opinion

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·5 min read
Carl Juste/cjuste@miamiherald.com
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Pat Riley thought the Miami Heat had “an absolutely great year, a year we could really be proud of.” Yet the club’s longtime president did not listen to or read anything in the media as the season ended, saying, “I took a break from what I felt would probably be an assault. That’s just the way it is.”

A couple of days after the NBA season ended in heartache for Miami, just short, there was another victory to cheer.

“I got my granddaughter to clap at nine months to ‘Let’s go Heat!’ ” said Riley. “Got her to do this on FaceTime. That was quite an accomplishment of coaching.”

Perspective.

Sometimes when work hurts you, life lifts you up again.

Perspective.

You are in a pretty good place, as a franchise and as the man leading it, when coming within 16 seconds of a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals is a “great year” — but also one ultimately disappointing. When even great is not good enough.

So it is that Grandpa Pat, 77, digs in to work ahead of his 28th season running the Heat, as the offseason shifts into high gear with Thursday’s start of free agency — the time of “Bird Rights” and “taxpayer midlevel exceptions.”

Since 1995 only the Warriors, Lakers and Spurs have won more NBA championships than Miami’s three. While South Florida sports fans wait (and wait) for the Dolphins and Marlins to matter again, the Heat continues reliably, relentlessly competitive under Riley.

Now what?

Riley is a whale hunter by trade but 2022 is an off summer for prized free agents, whales both desirable and gettable. Miami’s salary cap situation also does not lend itself to any whale pursuit in free agency.

Chicago’s Zach LaVine is a Grade A free agent but seems likely to re-sign with the Bulls.

What about a sign-and-trade?

Decisions, decisions.

I would consider only Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro to be immovable assets. Herro is entering the final year of his rookie contract and can be extended. I would not expect a max five-year deal for Herro, but big bucks over three or four years instead. And whatever is keeping the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year from being a starter is a bridge the Heat must cross.

Herro’s offensive pop is needed out there as much as possible. Too often in the postseason just past it seemed a one-man show offensively with Butler.

Point guard Kyle Lowry looked rather unfit and an old 36 in the playoffs, and faded in the Eastern Conference finals vs. Boston. I would explore the market for any trade value. Kyrie Irving, briefly available before opting in to return to Brooklyn, would have been enticing. Riley has long admired Irving, despite his eccentricities seeming an odd fit for Heat Culture. Irving staying with the Nets also means Kevin Durant likely won’t be looking to leave.

P.J. Tucker? I would re-sign him if possible. When healthy he does a lot of stuff the Heat need him for. But I suspect he may be headed elsewhere.

Max Strus and Gabe Vincent are inexpensive pieces worth keeping.

Is Victor Oladipo worth spending to re-sign when he’s third on the depth chart?

Duncan Robinson is the real conundrum. He disappeared out of the rotation late in the season and in the playoffs, partly for defensive liabilities, as coach Erik Spoelstra lost faith in the guy Miami had lavished with a five-year, $90 million deal.

If Robinson isn’t a major contributor that contract becomes notoriously bad, proving even the great Riley isn’t perfect. Despite that contract Robinson could have some trade value. Then again, in a three-point shooting league, is the Heat ready to give up on him and move on? How about fixing what led his fall from grace.

A wild card in all of this is the Heat’s No. 1 draft pick, 6-11 Serbian Nikola Jovic, who is offensively gifted. At only 19, how soon will he be ready to replace a departed Tucker and pair with Adebayo in a potentially great frontcourt?

These are matters now in the wheelhouse of Riley, who has earned this market’s trust to do the right thing in a way not seen with any of our other major pro teams.

The Dolphins are looking up but still have not won a playoff game since the 2000 season.

The Panthers are coming off a big year but one that ended in a miserable second-round sweep.

Inter Miami has disappointed into its third season in Major League Soccer.

The fourth-place Marlins are still cheap and not spending enough.

Since 1995 when Riley took over, the Heat have made the playoffs 21 times — more than the Dolphins, Panthers, Inter Miami and Marlins combined.

This offseason may see the Heat stick with the core and essentially run it back with just some tweak, or it may see a surprise with a major move or two. Either way:

In Pat We Trust. Alone in this market, he’s earned that.

There always are retirement rumors swirling around him. He has referenced “the end of the road.” It is coming.

South Florida sports has seen nothing else like Pat Riley. Appreciate him while you can.