Pat Riley has not only reinvented the Miami Heat roster numerous times in his two-plus decades as president of the team, but also, for all intents and purposes, invented the Heat. Riley repeatedly has taken the ordinary and made it extraordinary. Past or present, he is the Miami Heat. Without him, everything is different.
The white elephant in the room, however, is the big question every fan is asking: Can Riley defy all odds and scale the NBA mountain again? Or a better question might be: Does he truly have the energy and patience to win another title in light of all he's up against?
In his fiery postseason news conference last week, Riley insisted he plans to give one hell of a try at making another run at a title. Whether he can see it out until the end is another story, because right now, the Heat isn't remotely close to contending, and Riley has hinted many times in the past he's not long for his current job.
Before owner Micky Arison stole Riley away from the New York Knicks in 1995, the Heat was an afterthought in the NBA. Miami was on par with the Orlando Magic or Toronto Raptors at the time — just another new franchise trying to gain relevancy one season at a time. Then Riley got to work.
He turned Glen Rice and a bunch of try-harders into Alonzo Mourning and one of the greatest basketball teams of the '90s. Those teams transformed Heat fans' expectations and turned Miami into a franchise that was no longer just cute.
Riley pivoted from those Tim Hardaway-Alonzo Mourning squads into a more up-tempo team led by Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Eddie Jones, and a young kid you might have heard of: Dwyane Wade. To this day, the 2003-04 squad is one of the fans' favorite teams ever, which is really saying something for a franchise that has given South Florida so many amazing seasons.
From there, Riley turned that team into the Shaquille O'Neal-Dwyane Wade-led juggernaut that won the 2006 NBA title. At the time, Miami was the best basketball team in the NBA for a good 24-month stretch.
Then, most recently, Riley used a little luck, some cap maneuvering, and a lot of Wade's help to formulate the Big Three teams. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Wade changed the course of NBA history. Everyone is trying to duplicate those teams years later. No one will ever match the energy and narrative around them, though.
Now Riley is faced with his greatest challenge, one he made more difficult by locking up a team full of overachievers who were never going to seriously contend for an NBA championship. If he's to reinvent the Heat's roster again, he'll have to pull the biggest rabbit he's ever pulled out of his hat.
Riley has an assortment of problems to solve this summer — most glaring, how to rid himself of his most expensive player, Hassan Whiteside. At 73 years old, Riley might find that his best path to formulating a championship roster is to wait out all the bad deals the team has given to glorified role players in the past few years. Patience, especially over two long years, hasn't ever been his strong suit. He wants to win now. Simply making the playoffs isn't the sort of high he's chasing.
With a dozen or more teams ahead of the Heat in the NBA arms race entering next season, massive changes must be made to Miami's roster for the team to seriously contend for a title. Can Riley pull off a miracle again?
The odds are stacked against him like never before.
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