Pat Riley Needs to Be Patient or Retire

"The most difficult thing for individuals to do when they become part of a team is to sacrifice. It is much easier to be selfish." — Pat Riley

Arguably the most memorable and consistently sports-relative part of Pat Riley's book The Winner Within is a portion where he speaks about an epidemic he terms the "disease of me" — the idea that an individual's selfishness can undermine the goals of many, eventually resulting in failures. When a team member thinks about himself and loses focus on the group's long-term goals, everybody fails.

Whether you're a professional basketball team or a company that relies on the teamwork of its employees, the "disease of me" is an idea everyone can relate to: Selfishness and greed sink ships. It's easy to be selfish and fail, but it's much harder to be selfless and succeed as a single cog in a larger machine. 

Nowhere in this "disease of me" ideology is there a disclaimer that states that the person or people who built this teamwork-reliant machine are somehow exempt from fatally infecting its parts.

It might be time for Riley to decide whether he's on the verge of being the very thing he's preached you should not be. If his paramount goal right now is to throw future assets and cap space to the wind to win before retirement, maybe he needs to leave now. It's not that he can't do it anymore — nobody does it better — it's whether he has enough patience to do it right anymore. 

Pat Riley has never been the most patient man. He has a track record of disregarding the draft. He rarely played young players when coaching the Miami Heat. It's always worked out pretty well for him when he's made the right moves. In them, opportunity met preparation, not desperation. He had bullets in the chamber, and he never missed when it was time to unload the clip. From Alonzo Mourning to Shaquille O'Neal to LeBron James — Pat Riley never made the sad walk into the casino parking lot. He has always patiently waited until the time was right and then pushed it all in — and won. 

Recently, Riley reminisced on national TV about how pulling off the Shaq trade took some balls. It took trading away young talent with unlimited future-maybes in return for one proven talent with a definite now. "If I had to do it again, I'd do it again, because I want to win now," Riley told ABC. "You know, I'm getting too old to worry about winning down the road; I want to win now."

That might be music to the ears of most Heat fans, but it should bring pause to those who deal in realities. The Miami Heat as currently constructed is not close to being a championship team. That's OK. What isn't OK is Riley finds himself without the needed ammo to fight back. The Heat is in the hunt, but while others hunt with grenades and bazookas, the Heat has a bag full of handguns.

It's en vogue to say, "Never doubt the great Pat Riley.But it's not blasphemous to question whether it's the best idea to go all-in before the river with a pair of eights. The Miami Heat wasn't dealt these cards; it chose them — so it might be time to fold, take the L, and save your chips for the next hand. And the next. And the one after that. There is no shame in that, especially when you're very aware the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are holding a royal flush. 

Luckily for the Heat, while everyone else is raising the pot, Miami is able to simply check. No moves are necessary. The stakes do not have to rise. They do not have to play any of the following cards to improve today's hand. 

Justise Winslow is a 19-year-old gem, a piece of a possible 2020 championship puzzle much more so than he is a piece of one today. He is, in today's NBA, a blessing. He will remain a big contributor on a minute salary for quite some time. Even Jeffrey Loria would say giving him up for anything outside of a Top 10 NBA player is crazy. 

The Miami Heat, along with many other teams that have circled this off-season as a monumental team-building moment, sits in great shape to remold the team on the fly this off-season — there is no reason to screw that up now. Heat fans do not need to be reminded what an off-season of Riley recruiting with a full wallet can bring. The NBA is looking to add corporate logos to team jerseys, which will only further increase the NBA salary cap due to future revenue. That means more shopping sprees past 2016 are on the horizon. Adding any win-now player who would jeopardize future flexibility would only lead the Heat down a path that ends in more you-don't-have-enough seasons. 

No more draft picks should be sent away. The Heat already finds itself about to enter an NBA draft pick desert due to the deal that brought Goran Dragic to Miami. If anything, the Heat should be sending away players from this year's team to anyone willing to pay a second-round pick. Not because the Heat needs, or values, second-round picks — but because enough of them might result in enough to move up into a first round for a piece later or spice up a would-be trade enough that they are able to pull it off. 

Pat Riley and the Heat have prided themselves on being prepared to win the lottery, not bingo night at the local church where the prize is Rudy Gay. The Miami Heat has always swung for the fences, but the team might find itself in a situation that calls more for laying down a bunt to move the runner to third. If the Heat's recent blowout loss to the shorthanded Spurs proved anything, it's that Miami isn't just one home run away from victory — it's more like a grand slam. 

Pat Riley famously went off in a news conference following the team's 2013-14 season. He implored everyone to "get a grip." He rattled off a list of NBA dynasty teams and pointed out that over the course of nearly two decades, even they had lost more times than they had won — usually many more times. He wanted the media, fans, and seemingly LeBron James to remember that "this thing is hard" but that they need to be patient. 

So let's all be patient enough to plan our best course of attack toward the next great Miami Heat era. That does not include ESPN Trade Machine scenarios that bring back Dwight Howard for every last bit of the sexy assets the Heat has left. It means build it right or chance becoming the Brooklyn Nets. Post-Pat Riley. Post-Dwyane Wade. Post-Udonis Haslem. Post-Chris Bosh. Post-Goran Dragic. Risk crashing into a wall trying to go to fast and spending the next ten years racing with a wobbly-wheeled car covered in duct tape.

If the Miami Heat isn't careful, the "disease of me" could leave the team treading water for years while the rest of the NBA rides around Miami on WaveRunners. Nothing should be about how old Riley is or if he's willing to give it a year or four to build a legitimate challenger; it should be about the franchise and its fans. It's called Heat Lifer, not Heat Until I Get Impatient. 

The Heat will be in Miami far longer than anyone picking the players today. Pat Riley has done more for South Florida sports than any man not named Don Shula, but it might be time for Riley to decide if the "disease of me" is beginning to get the better of him. 

In the end, we always tend to believe "in Pat Riley we trust." 

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >