The difference now, after an offseason when his team largely treaded water on the personnel market, is that the Heat’s president wants it all.
“How I look at our team, and how we look at our team, the player who stirs the whole drink is Jimmy,” Riley said, as the Heat turn their attention to Wednesday night’s season opener against the Detroit Pistons at Kaseya Center. “But Bam and Tyler are our cornerstones. And thank God we have that future. And I think both Tyler and Bam, along with Jimmy, they have to have career-best years, for us to be in the hunt.”
So no, no easing into the process when it comes to what is necessary after the Milwaukee Bucks added Damian Lilllard and the Boston Celtics added Jrue Holiday . . . and the Heat added Josh Richardson, Thomas Bryant and Jaime Jaquez Jr., while losing Max Strus and Gabe Vincent.
“I like our team,” Riley said, a recurrent theme during a 20-minute interview with the Sun Sentinel. “The Eastern Conference is top-loaded with Milwaukee and Boston, and there’s a bunch of us in the mix there. But those teams are really top-loaded with talent and we’ll see how things work out.”
Having arrived as a coach with a defensive bent, and having maintained that focus over his three-decade stewardship of the franchise, Riley on the eve of the season recognized what also matters in today’s NBA, particularly after the Heat managed to crack 95 points just once in their five-game loss to the Denver Nuggets in last season’s NBA Finals.
“We think staying healthy wise, that Jimmy, Bam and Tyler, they’ve got to have career years that will equate to winning,” he said. “One guy’s got to average 25, another guy’s got to be 22, another guy’s got to be whatever. But we need those three players to play at a level, their career-best levels, and I think they’re capable of doing it.
“And the important thing is to get them on the floor.”
That’s the other part of the concern for Riley, and seemingly for the Heat. The Plan Bs on the roster largely are either older (Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Josh Richardson) or untested (Haywood Highsmith, Nikola Jovic, Jaquez). The playoff injury absence of Herro became pronounced in the Finals. Before that, the availability of Butler for only 64 games during the regular season contributed to a 44-38 record, seventh-place finish and No. 8 playoff seed. And while Adebayo pushed through 75 regular-season games last season and all 23 more in the playoffs, he constantly finds himself fighting a nightly undersized battle in the middle.
“Last year we had a lot of injuries that were over two months or three months,” Riley said of a series of extended absences that include Lowry being lost at midseason to knee pain. “But the whole load management thing and resting thing is going to be addressed.”
Riley was talking specifically about the initiatives put into place for this season by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, but also how it is important for his team to move in lockstep.
Lockstep, of course, would have meant retaining Strus and Vincent, going deeper into the luxury tax.
“We’re going to miss both those guys,” Riley said, “because we’re going to miss their experience and their know-how. But we have players who can replace them.”
Not that the parting was easy.
Vincent left for a three-year, $33 million free-agency contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, getting him back to his California roots. The Heat had offered $34 million over four.
“I know what I said when I sat with him face to face,” Riley said. “We had an offer, but he wanted to go to L.A. But I understand that he wanted to go somewhere else.”
“Max,” Riley said, “got a great, great deal and we’ll see how that works out up there.”