Posted Nov 26 2009 10:59AM
Dwyane Wade had a two-word response when asked recently about Pat Riley. But don't take that the wrong way. You only need two words to describe Pat Riley:
Yeah. We know. Pat's been cool ever since Jerry West handed him the Lakers, ever since wardrobe became as much a part of coaching as the clipboard, ever since Michael Douglas combed his hair back in Wall Street as a nod to Riles. Even now, with that same hair thinning and graying, and after giving up coaching (for good?), we suspect Riley is still cool in Miami.
But does this mean Riley still matters as much now as before?
For the sake of the franchise, this is important to know, because his influence could determine the immediate future of the Heat. The most important summer in team history begins July 1 and Riley must convince not one, but two A-list free agents (Wade and someone else) that Miami is the place to be, in order for Miami to challenge for another NBA title.
Oh, money will be a big factor. It always is. And the Heat will have plenty of that. More than any other team next summer. Problem is, LeBron James will get money no matter where he goes. Plus, he makes triple his salary in off-court endorsements. So you figure salary, while important, won't mean as much to LeBron as it will, let's say, Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson.
Basically, in order to keep Wade in Miami and also bring help, Miami needs more than money, South Beach and sunshine. Miami needs Riley to flaunt his own track record in the NBA, which is rather long and successful. He must exercise his clout and persuasive powers and aura, if he still has that triple going for him. There's no reason to doubt he has lost any of that, but just the same, he has to prove he's got it.
Riley didn't make a big push to bring help to Miami last summer, despite a plea from Wade. Smart move. The Heat will still win more games than they'll lose by sticking with the status quo and letting Wade be Wade. That should be enough to keep fans interested and sell tickets and prevent the season from being a total wash, like it will be in New York. Also, without absorbing a big contract, the Heat could keep their financial options open.
But now that Riley has refused to follow the example of Joe Dumars, who spent the Pistons' money now (on Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon) rather than later, Riley put himself into an all-or-nothing position next summer. It'll be his chance to remake a championship team for the second time. The first time, he traded for Shaquille O'Neal and that worked out well for the short term. Riley resisted the urge to include Wade in the deal ("That wasn't going to happen," he said shortly after the trade), which was wise. But he did give up Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, who are still enjoying decent careers while Shaq got old about 15 minutes after the Heat won its only championship. Basically, Riley sacrificed a good part of the future in order to strike it rich quick.
Since then, his team has survived mainly on the incredible play of Wade, who's had to deliver MVP-quality performances, almost nightly, just to take his team to the postseason. Wade maintains that he loves living and playing in Miami, but at the same time, refused to sign an extension over the summer. That means he's keeping his options open and is somewhat receptive to leaving, if it comes to that.
The only realistic scenario for Wade to leave Miami is to join LeBron in either New York or New Jersey. Nothing else would make sense. The big city does have its charms. But neither the Knicks nor Nets have Riley, though, and that's the trump card the Heat must use to the fullest.
He still has a name that registers big in the league, if only a bit quieter. Riley is in the same position as Bill Parcells, who works up the street. Parcells is a behind-the-scenes operator but still casts a rather large spell over his team, in this case, the Miami Dolphins. Both have the pull and the personality to get things done and give their teams a dose of luster and credibility. All things being equal, does Wade and another free agent want to work for someone other than Riley?
Riley didn't want to speak for this story. A Heat team spokesman essentially said Riley has taken the LeBron stance regarding next summer: Enough talk.
Well, that'll work for LeBron. He doesn't need to say anything. He has nothing to sell. Riley has plenty to sell. Namely, the Heat. And himself.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here.
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