The theme of Pat Riley’s end-of-season message: Heat’s player availability problem must be solved

Miami Heat president Pat Riley opened his season-ending news conference Monday by speaking about the need for change.

But Riley wasn’t alluding to impending changes to the Heat’s roster in the wake of the team’s early first-round exit from the playoffs this season. Instead, Riley used his opening statement to emphasize the need for change regarding the Heat’s way of doing things in order to fix its player availability problem.

“Those things you’re doing to try to win, if they aren’t working, must change,” Riley said at the start of his 43-minute news conference at Kaseya Center on Monday afternoon. “So that doesn’t mean that change is a sinister word here. There’s a lot of elements that go into a culture, the erosion of a culture, being together for 30 years, generational change, problems in the NBA that are league-wide when it comes to health, when it comes to players missing games and availability.

“That’s definitely a deep dive for us this summer into player availability. So we have to change some things. But we surely aren’t going to rip anything apart here.”

How will Heat handle Jimmy Butler’s request for max extension? Pat Riley offers insight

The opening statement turned out to be the theme of Riley’s much-anticipated annual season-ending news conference this year.

When asked about Jimmy Butler’s impending request for a maximum extension, Riley said this as part of his answer: “That’s a big decision on our part to commit those kinds of resources unless you’re somebody who’s really going to be there, available every single night. That’s the truth.”

When asked if his view on the Heat’s core of Bam Adebayo, Butler and Tyler Herro has changed after this season, Riley said: “It’s sort of hard to really measure your roster. I would love to have one through nine or one through 10 or whatever available. Give me 72 games, I’ll take 72 at different times.”

When asked for his thoughts on Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s rookie season, Riley again brought it back to player availability by saying: “With Jaime, if he had not gotten hurt with the groin earlier in the season — because he plays — he would have played 82 games. He ended up playing 75 games. Believe me, he was hurting when he missed those games. But he’s a proud young warrior that will play every night for you.”

Then when asked to assess Herro’s fifth NBA season, Riley said this to begin his answer: “Well, he’s been fragile a little bit. He broke his hand last year in the playoffs and he had some injuries earlier in his career.”

The Heat’s availability issue led to a new franchise record with 35 different starting lineups used this regular season. In the end, 18 different Heat players starting at least one game this regular season.

No Heat lineup logged more than 200 minutes together this regular season. In comparison, the team that eliminated the Heat in the first round of this year’s playoffs, the Boston Celtics, had two lineups that played more than 300 minutes together this regular season.

Also, the Heat’s leading trio of Adebayo, Butler and Herro was limited to just 27 games together this regular season, with the team posting a 14-13 record in those games. This trio also played in no playoff games together this year, with Butler missing the Heat’s entire first-round playoff series against the Celtics because of a sprained MCL in his right knee.

“Having discussions with the training staff, talking with weight trainers, the strength training staff,” Riley said of how the Heat will go about addressing its recent injury issues. “A lot of players have their own sort of off-the-court coaches, trainers and therapists, all of that stuff. Who knows that somewhere something isn’t conflicting with what we do here in our training room or in the weight room, or with nutrition, or with mental health or whatever. So those are the dives that you have to do into those factors to see how much can we control that.

“I’m not going to ever accuse a player who can’t play that he doesn’t want to play or he’s not able to play. But there’s no such thing as 100 percent in the NBA, there just isn’t. So we’d like to have a consistent rotation.”

While Riley believes the Heat’s trademark culture is still in place, he also made clear that it’s not the same culture that he established when joining the organization in 1995.

“Is it the way it was 20 years ago? No, it’s not that,” Riley said. “That was OK 20 years ago and players accepted that and players played, 70, 80 games or whatever they did. It’s not that way. The generational change in contemporary players today, younger players, don’t even know what 20 years ago was about. How they conduct their lives, how they train, what they take as important.

“You’re either in or out, you’re either with or against everything that it is that we’re talking about trying to do to win. If we’re not getting it, then we have to change some things and come to some different conclusions. But did [our culture] erode? That’s something that we’re going to talk about and where was erosion. Where is it? That’s going to be discussed.”

Changes to the Heat’s roster will come. They come every offseason. The question is: How big will those changes be?

But Riley made it known other kinds of changes need to happen, too, because he won’t accept the same player availability problem that doomed the Heat this season.

“We just want to try to control some of the things that maybe we lost control of or a little bit of control of,” Riley said. “... We got a really good group of guys and the No. 1 issue is player availability and having your guys out there playing every night. We have to wrap our arms around that notion from that standpoint. So that’s where we are.”