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Scott Howard-Cooper

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Pat Riley may have done the Miami Heat a big favor by stepping up and defending their summer moves.
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Riley at his finest as Heat president takes 'T' for team


Posted Sep 15 2010 8:12AM

Maybe the guy who quit the Knicks via fax isn't the best judge of how other people should carry themselves. But OK.

Either way, Pat Riley's dream summer is complete. He got to keep Dwyane Wade, he got to add LeBron James and Chris Bosh, and now he gets to circle the wagons in the capping moment that means the Heat are officially ready to take on the world.

Speaking to a small gathering of South Florida writers last week, in his first extended comments since the free-agent jackpot of July, Riley fired back at all those who dared question his players and his franchise. Charles Barkley, Stan Van Gundy, Otis Smith, the collective media doubters -- no Christmas cards for you! Poor Rashard Lewis was off to the side, minding his own business, and still got smacked.

"Charles Barkley, to me, went way over the top," the Heat president said. "I thought way, way, way over the top. I think Charles is probably the only guy in the league that can get away with what he gets away with. For some reason, he just gets away with it. And calling these guys a bunch of punks, it's a personal attack."

And:

"Stan's out there making comments about Chris Bosh being a lapdog to Dwyane Wade or something like that. I don't know what happened to some of these guys along the way."

And, referring to how Smith, the Magic general manager, famously noted how "I thought [James] was, I guess, more of a competitor," because "the great ones" don't walk away from teams:

"I thought that was an absolutely stupid remark. He [Smith] never made any kind of comment like that when he signed Rashard Lewis and he brought him down from Seattle with a $128 million contract or anything like that."

Two things.

People in sports constantly complain about comments from the media lacking credibility because reporters don't have the background to know what they're talking about. So now the comments come from a veteran coach, a veteran executive/former player and a Hall of Fame player... and Riley still questions the validity. It may not be fun for the Heat to hear, but they have to know it's a common perception around the league.

And, these things are often a show for the player. It's yelling at the ref -- coaches often yell at the ref to disagree with a call even if they don't disagree with the call, to send a message to the player that the coach has his back. Some will even get a technical. This is Riley picking up a 'T'.

But this is also Riley at his finest, setting up the "Us vs. Them" mood that signals the season can begin, steeling his roster for the hard push ahead. Riles, the Lakers coach who would kick janitors out of Boston Garden at a Finals practice during the glorious days of the cage matches with the Celtics rather than take the chance they were Red Auerbach spies. Or Red himself.

Riley was doing basketball psychobabble long before Phil Jackson honed his motivational techniques. He was a great coach -- and has done excellent work as an executive -- and a lot of the success on the sidelines came from pushing buttons, often on his own players. It's how he could be a critical aspect of a championship formula on Los Angeles and still have players privately lobbying the management for a change.

This is either getting that proverbial technical or drawing the troops closer in the trenches, and probably both, but what it is not is real. The only actual issue is winning a championship when anything else will be mocked. Barkley delivered an elbow to the stomach while positioning for a rebound? So what. The Heat don't have to beat TNT. Van Gundy and Smith escalated a Miami-Orlando rivalry? Great theater, but if the Heat needed that to be motivation, they were doing something wrong in the first place.

Riley is right that some of the comments were over the top. Two superstars fulfilled their contracts and within the rules opted to change teams. (Check that. James still owes the Cavaliers a Game 5 against the Celtics.) They chose a new team that has a much better chance of winning a title, and that doesn't make them punks or lapdogs.

But, no, Barkley, Smith, Van Gundy and the countless others aren't serious problems for Riley. Quite the opposite. They provided a motivational moment he covets. Deep down, Riles may be thanking them. Maybe they'll stay on the Christmas card list after all.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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