Since joining the Miami Heat in 1995, Pat Riley has proven he's a fantastic coach, general manager, president, and team ambassador. He has also shown he always has the bigger picture in mind regardless of how hopeless things mights seem.
Riley, in short, has established that shortcuts and side roads are the way to go when pursuing an NBA championship. There are no awards for being "built, not bought." (Last night's NBA championship win by the Kawhi Leonard-led Toronto Raptors confirmed this, by the way.)
But there's one thing Riley has never truly proven he's capable of in Miami: being patient. Unfortunately, it now seems that's the Heat's best route back to NBA contention — patiently waiting for contracts to expire. It seems bad signings have deleted any chance at taking a shortcut for now.
Most of the Heat's salary money will likely go to Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Goran Dragic, and Hassan Whiteside for next season. The only way to short-cut that fact is to trade one or more of the players who occupy the young, talented other half of the Heat roster, such as Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow, who are both on Heat-favorable deals. Teams seeking a trade will likely also ask for next week's 13th overall pick in the draft.
None of that makes sense unless Anthony Davis or Kevin Durant signaled they'd come to Miami if there were cap space. The Heat is much better off gaining more cap flexibility as the days pass. In a season or two, the team can pounce on a player available in free agency or via trade as it did with Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, and Shaquille O'Neal — as well as LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Sadly, everyone will just have to wait for the mediocrity to end and watch other teams play into late June. Multiple years of Dion Waiters or James Johnson are not sexy to other teams in a trade.
The Heat isn't one or two players away. It's at least two seasons away.
This offseason will surely be a test for Riley. Seeing players such as Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, and Kevin Durant available must make him itch. Every Heat title has one common denominator: The man in the Armani suit brought players to Miami.
Waiting has become Riley's best way to ride into the sunset with one last title.
Some good draft choices, a little luck, improvement from within, and, most of all, patience, will get Heat players and management to where they want to go.
Any shortcuts at this moment would likely only reset the clock and make the Heat a middling franchise fighting for a playoff spot, not a title, much longer than necessary.