Pat Riley opened his annual state of the Miami Heat press conference Monday afternoon by taking us through a journey of his greatest hits – the trades for Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, the reinvention of the roster with Eddie Jones and Lamar Odom, the drafting of Dwyane Wade and everything in the time since.
It’s clear he would like to add another chapter of tweaks to make the Heat better this summer and beyond – no matter the hefty hurdles in front of him.
“We’re not going to stop and it doesn’t make any difference how we do it,” Riley, 73, said in his opening statement of a 44-minute press conference. “Whether you’re a room team, whether you’re capped out, whether you’ve got a lot of guys under contract, whether you’re limited with your picks, you keep working toward your goal. That’s what we’re going to do. How we’re going to do it is irrelevant.”
Riley said no one on the Heat’s roster is untouchable this summer.
“Show me the right name, I could be all in on everything,” he said. “You know me and [owner] Micky [Arison]. But it’s got to be the right name. Our core guys, we would like to keep together, there’s no doubt, we’d like to keep them together and we’d like to add something to it, but that’s going to be a challenge.”
The Heat finished the regular season sixth in the Eastern Conference at 44-38, but was bounced in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2010, losing in only five games to the young, up-and-coming Philadelphia 76ers. Riley believes had the Heat won Game 4, the series probably would have gone 7 games.
Either way, he’s not blind to hole the Heat are in. With the Sixers and Boston Celtics on the rise with young, talented rosters, the Heat is clearly chasing them and several other teams in the East. Internal improvement is one thing, but it’s clear Riley knows the roster has to be upgraded in order to truly contend.
“Right now we have a bunch of guys that can still get better,” he said. “While internal improvement and development is a huge part of our organization, going outside and looking around and now is the opportunity to have those conversations — trying to find a transformative player, maybe, is probably what our challenge is going to be.
“I always go back to the very first trade I made here to get Zo. There are more of those out there.”
Either way, upgrading the Heat’s roster this summer will not be easy.
Miami has 11 players under contract for 2018-19 who are due $120.1 million — well over the projected $101 million cap. Add in three cap holds to fill out the 14-man roster, the Heat is right at the projected $123 million tax threshold. Impending free agents Wayne Ellington and Dwyane Wade are not factored into that $120.1 million salary total.
That leaves the Heat with two avenues to sign free agents: with contracts at the league minimum (extending to $2.3 million for veterans) or through a mid-level exception ($5.5 million).
As far as the draft is concerned, the Heat doesn’t have a pick as its first-rounder is being forwarded to Phoenix as part of the 2015 Goran Dragic deal (Miami also owns the Suns an unprotected first-rounder in 2021). Once Phoenix uses the Heat’s 2018 pick, Miami is permitted to trade its 2019 first-round pick, a sweetener in a trade Riley could uses to try and move an undesirable contract.
“We have a lot of thoughts,” Riley said of potential trade targets. “The board is massive. There’s 450 players on the board and so [general manager Andy Elisburg] already has a book, three books already developed on the summer and what we’re going to do. Then we will dissect those books and get to look at them.
“It’s not good enough to just be a playoff team,” Riley later continued. “I truly believe we were a playoff team last year. We didn’t make it the last day of the season. Making the playoffs is not like wearing a badge of honor. It’s your opportunity to do something significant. We didn’t do a very good job against Philadelphia.”
Riley included center Hassan Whiteside in that. Whiteside, who still has two years left on his four-year, $98 million deal including a salary of $24.4 million next season, played a total of 77 minutes in the playoffs. He complained about his reduced role. Monday, Riley Whiteside and coach Erik Spoelstra have to figure it out.
“There’s no doubt he was in a bad state in the playoffs,” Riley said of Whiteside. “Whatever the reasons why, I have not really sat down with Spo and really talked about all of these things. Hassan was less than without a doubt in the playoffs. I’m not going to give him any kind of excuse. But the season started with an injury and all year long there was a dilemma of some kind. By the time we got to the playoffs I don’t think he was ready. He wasn’t in great shape. He wasn’t fully conditioned for a playoff battle mentally. He and we got our heads handed to us.
“The disconnect between he and Spo that’s going to take a discussion between them and it’s going to take thought on the part of Coach and also Hassan. How will Hassan transform his thinking – 99 percent of it – to get the kind of improvement that Spo wants so he can be effective? How can Spo transform his thinking when it comes to offense and defense or minutes or whatever? However he uses him, that’s what you do. I have the same problem with Hassan. That problem is that he’s going to have to do something to change because he’s a helluva player.”
Shortly after Whiteside signed his deal, Riley told Sports Illustrated Whiteside was the perfect center and in due time the Heat’s offense would run through him. Does he still feel that way in today’s modern NBA where the three-point shot dominates? Maybe not. But he thinks there’s still a way to make Whiteside effective.
“How does he make himself effective? To do the things he needs to do – defend, rebound, shot blocking, all of those things that he did that we fell in love with the first year, second year,” Riley said. “He had a bad year this year. He’s got to come back strong next year. I’m going to try to help him as much as I can. I’m going to try to help the both of them so we can keep him on the court 30 minutes a game. But he’s got to help himself.”
As for the rest of the roster, there are players Riley loves. But all of them in the end are available for this summer if Riley can find a transformative player.
“I love our young core guys,” he said. “I still think and believe Hassan can anchor in spite of what a lot of people believe. And I think our core veteran players that are a little bit older, James Johnson, possibly Wayne Ellington, players, Kelly Olynyk, those kind of guys that if we did nothing, we would be a playoff team. I believe they would be. But we are not going to … do nothing. To get to what you’re talking about – that’s our challenge. If that can happen, we will try to make that happen. If it can’t happen, we will try to make it happen in October. If it can’t happen then, we will try to make it happen in February. Right now, this is what we are, this is what we have. It’s a playoff team.”
For more of what Riley talked about, our Barry Jackson has a post with Riley’s thoughts on individual players including Josh Richardson and areas of improvement.