The 2016-17 season is one of Pat Riley's greatest achievements with the Miami Heat. Yes, this season, when there's still a good chance the Heat won't come close to raising another banner or planning another parade on Biscayne Boulevard. This Heat team's never-say-die comeback has shown the entire league why Riley is a legendary NBA executive. This season, with all of its warts and shortcomings, will go down as one of Riley's greatest gifts to South Florida fans.
Rebounding from the loss of a once-in-a-generation type of player like LeBron James is not a one-year process, and the Heat was certainly still feeling the effects of his loss last season. Like an earthquake, that loss has aftershocks. The salary cap and the roster need time to regroup from the all-in mentality the Big Three era required. That in itself would have been enough of an excuse for most executives to lean on for half a decade's worth of bad teams.
On top of all of that, Riley unexpectedly lost Chris Bosh, the Big Three holdover who was supposed to be the centerpiece of the new era until blood clots ended his career. For most teams, losing a max-contract player is a deathblow. To the Heat, it was just another bump in the road. No excuses. Next man up.
Then, this past summer, came arguably the toughest challenge of all: Dwyane Wade, the greatest athlete in South Florida sports history, jetted for his hometown Chicago Bulls deep into this year's free-agency period. It wasn't the loss of Wade on the court that hurt most; many variables will show the Heat better in certain categories without him. It was the loss of the franchise's unquestioned leader and stable rock.
So after all of this turmoil, what did Pat Riley do? He spent all of his cap space like it was a gift card about to expire the next day. He bought this and that, hoping if he didn't need or want it later, he could sell it all on eBay.
James Johnson, Dion Waiters, Rodney McGruder, Willie Reed, Wayne Ellington, Luke Babbitt, and Okaro White all joined what remained of the Heat's roster. On paper, that lineup didn't look promising. It looked even worse after the Heat started the season 11-30. But in the end, Riley was vindicated. Now, as usual, soon-to-be Heat free agents are about to get set-for-life contracts based on career years in Miami.
It's still to be determined how this season will end. The Heat could still sneak into the eighth seed of the playoffs, but Miami needs help and it'll have to beat a reeling Cleveland Cavaliers team tonight.
But one thing is already etched in stone: This season is one of Riley's greatest achievements as president of the Miami Heat.
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