Has Pat Riley Constructed the Perfect Team with the 2012-13 Miami Heat?
No, that's not purely a coincidence.
Good ole Riley has helped build South Beach's powerhouse from the ground up, LeBron James and all.
As a member of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers team that won a record 33 consecutive, Riley knows what it takes to win in excess.
His ingenuity didn't begin and end by orchestrating the Big Three's arrival in 2010, though. Procuring the likes of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was only a fraction—albeit a big one—of how he has allowed the organization to get to this point.
In a wide-ranging series of moves, Riley was able to assemble the closest thing to a perfect roster the NBA currently has.
Reflecting on the wonders he's worked as a league executive, clad with a suit and slicked back hair, seems more than appropriate as he celebrates his 68th birthday.
June 26, 2003: The Beginning
With the fifth-overall pick of the 2003 NBA draft, Riley and the Heat struck gold in the form of Wade.
For those wondering if the plan was to pair Wade with James and Bosh nearly a decade ago, the answer is no. Without Wade, however, none of it becomes possible. Riley would have had one less ring to show James in 2010 and one less friend to sell him on.
It also gave the Heat someone who would go on to become one of the best players in the NBA, even today.
Wade is Miami's all-time leader in games played, minutes played, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, points, assists and steals. He's also second in blocks.
Though Wade has since handed the reins of the Heat to James, he remains one of the most vital cogs in their championship machine, and one of the few players in the league who has spent his entire career (thus far) with one team.
That same summer, Udonis Haslem also came to Miami, undrafted. He has since gone on to become the teams all-time leading rebounder and established himself over the years as someone with a reliable mid-range jumper as well.
His role has diminished considerably now (career low 18.8 minutes a game), but he's averaging over 10 boards per 36 minutes, and been a part of two championship teams.
Almost 10 years ago, Riley helped piece together the foundation for what would eventually become the Association's most dangerous convocation.
June 26, 2008: Second Round Gold
Coming off a 2007-08 campaign that saw the battered Heat go 15-67, Miami drafted fool's gold in Michael Beasley with the second-overall pick.
Second round acquisitions rarely make up for first-round blunders, a trend that rang true here. Landing Chalmers, who was selected 34th overall, in a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves did help ease the wounds, though.
During his rookie year, Chalmers started all 82 games for Heat, a season that the team finished 43-39, an 28-game improvement over the previous year.
Today, Chalmers is often considered an afterthought in Miami's arsenal when in reality, his importance should not be understated.
A point guard by presumption, Chalmers' ability to play off the ball and knock down spot-up jumpers has allowed him to successfully play alongside ball dominators like Wade (and James) for the better part of five years.
Not many point men are effective without the ball in their hands, and almost all of them would admit they're uncomfortable. Chalmers has found other ways to make an impact, most notably with his 37 percent clip from deep for his career (41.4 percent this season).
Still a starter to this day, Chalmers' box score can frequently read like a statistical anomaly, but he's yet to miss more than 12 games in a single-season and is someone Miami can depend on to hit the big shot.
You know you're important when James takes the time to give a shout out.
His ability to play out of position is hardly revered, but it's something his teammates, and Riley, undoubtedly appreciate.
July 7, 2010: The Big Two
Shortly before James announced his televised decision, both Wade and Bosh committed to playing for the Heat.
Both had shopped around before making their own decisions, but the lure of playing together (possibly with James) allowed Riley to make the biggest free-agency splash to date at the time.
Retaining Wade ensured the Heat didn't lose a then six-time All-Star and NBA champion. He was their prized asset for the better part of a decade, and as long as he called Miami home, contention was but a heartbeat away.
In Bosh, the Heat snagged a then five-time All-Star who gave them an inside out presence they didn't have, as well as the second superstar they craved.
Fresh off a first-round exit at the hands of the Boston Celtics, Miami needed change. Riley created the flexibility to instill it and wooed the necessary athletes to make it happen.
And he wasn't even done.
July 8, 2010: The Bigger Than Big Three
Some saw it coming, but few could actually envision James taking his talents to South Beach and creating what was considered one of the most formidable pairings in NBA history upon inception.
Yet, here he was, on national television, spurning the team that drafted him in favor of chasing championships.
Bosh and Wade were a part of it, and few remain hell-bent on proving this was the culmination of some extravagant conspiracy.
What actually sold James was Riley, and his pitch.
Where the New York Knicks could be found selling James on his love for the Sopranos and the Cavaliers attempting to capitalize off his loyalty, Riley showed him hardware, tangible evidence that championship rings existed.
Imagine yourself as James, sitting in a chair, staring at an army of gleaming championship rings, jewelry you had never had never been so close to.
"Hey," said Riley as he tossed a bag of rings on the table for James to see (via Patrick Hurby of ESPN.com), "try one on."
Hook. Line. Sinker.
Sparkling as those rings may have looked, they were hardly sources of comfort. Instead, they were what Riley described as a "weapon," something to remind LeBron he didn't have any.
The results of employing this weapon speak for themselves.
Almost three years later, James has his own ring, is hoping for another, has played his way into the record books and led the Heat to the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.
Riley's cost-cutting maneuvers leading into the 2010 free agency period left hope that he could make the type of splash everyone would remember forever.
July 16, 2010: Adding More Pieces to the Puzzle
Even after securing James, Riley wasn't done.
He went on to re-sign the likes of defensive-stopper Joel Anthony, big man and James' teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Mike Miller.
We laugh at some of these acquisitions now, but for the longest time, Anthony was the only line of defense Miami had at the rim. For the first season, Iggy was a borderline necessity if the Heat wanted to run with a center who didn't mutilate their offensive attack.
As for Miller, we cringe at his albatross of a contract now, but without him, Miami doesn't defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the 2012 NBA Finals. He knocked down seven threes in that contest, helping the Heat obtain that Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Most surely believe that the Heat would have gone on to win in Game 6 or 7, but we don't know that for sure. Oklahoma City would have had momentum and there's no telling what could have happened.
Courtesy of Miller, atrocious haircut, degenerative knees, back and all, thankfully, Miami didn't have to.
June 12, 2011: Criticism of a Lost Season
Miami made it all the way to the NBA Finals in just the first season of the Big Three experiment, but that wasn't good enough.
After falling to the Dallas Mavericks in six games, the Heat were subject to even more public scrutiny.
It was nothing new, as there were plenty of fans and pundits alike who felt strongly that the Heat would never win a championship since their powerhouse-esque formation. Their loss to the Mavericks didn't help stifle those cries. It only fueled them.
Questions of James' clutch abilities were presented to no end throughout the Dallas series and only gained traction after the Heat eventually lost.
James' "decision," coupled with failure to win a championship yet again stood to taint his image forever. He was visibly frustrated with the media and after Miami's Game 6 loss, his emotions spilled out onto the airwaves (via the Associated Press):
Absolutely not, because at the end of the day, all the people that were rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day, they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I'm going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that.
They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal. But they have to get back to the real world at some point."
With an attitude like that, with frustrations boiling over to that point, would James and the Heat ever win? Had Riley assembled an expensive dud? Was it time to part ways?
So many questions faced the Heat heading into that offseason, but the severe chiding wasn't enough to penetrate Riley's armor.
He regrouped and restructured.
June 23, 2011: Another Savvy Move
On draft night, Riley dealt for point guard Norris Cole, the 28th-overall pick, in a move that has proved as effective and understated as the Chalmers acquisition.
Like Chalmers, Cole is an adequate distributor (could be better), but he's also able to play off the ball. Again, on a team with the ball-domineering and drive-and-kick talents of James and Wade, that's not to be understated.
As a rookie, Cole was give more than 19 minutes per game and revealed himself to be a lethal defensive weapon, someone who could serve as another line keeping the opposition outside of the paint.
Cole's offensive game remains raw, but he has improved his mid-range game and still manages to log 18-plus minutes per bout.
He's also connected with James for an alley-oop or 10.
Another solid notch under Riley's acquisition belt.
December 8, 2011: Riley Gets his Battier On
Upon the lockout's conclusion, Riley was able to net veteran forward and heralded defender Shane Battier.
Coming from the Memphis Grizzlies, Battier instantly deepened a shallow supporting cast, providing some much-needed defense and three-point shooting. He was a key component of Miami's championship run, and his ability to defend the shooting guard and small and power forward positions has rendered him irreplaceable.
Even today, the not especially athletic Battier still uses his superior intellect to force the ball out of his opponents hands or goad them into bad shots. He embodies consistency and exemplifies team-first basketball.
Per Synergy Sports (subscription required) opposing players are also hitting on just 38.1 percent of their shots against him. The Heat as a team are relinquishing a 44.3 percent conversion rate, further attesting to Battier's importance.
That 43.2 percent clip from deep this year is treating Miami well, too.
Nice get, Riles.
June 21, 2012: Riley's Heat Deliver
It took the Heat just five games to send the Thunder home with their shoulders sagged and snag their first championship of the Big Three Era.
Said attainment quieted everyone who believed Miami's brand of basketball wouldn't deliver.
In just two years, Riley and the Heat managed to rewrite the book on rebuilding and winning.
We chalk the title up to those in jerseys, but it was Riley who put the team in a position to even have these players.
It was him who afforded them the opportunity win big.
July 11, 2012: The Great Become Even Greater
Less than a month after he watched the team he assembled rip-roll their way to an NBA title, Riley was at it again.
The personnel-managing sleuth landed the likes of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, bolstering an already elite offense considerably.
Lewis hasn't been able to revive his career in South Beach, but he's hitting on 40.8 percent of his threes in just 11.3 minutes a night.
Allen, on the other hand, has proved to be a monstrous get.
Some have attempted to downplay his importance, but averaging 10.9 points and shooting 41.5 percent from downtown is no easy feat at the age of 37. Neither are the countless big shots he's already sank.
Just as important as Allen's performance, is his acquisition itself, and the man who made it happen.
It's not just that Allen signed for less than he was offered by the Celtics, but that he was signed at all. This was a revered Celtic we were talking about. He helped lead Boston to an NBA championship and pushed the Heat to the brink of elimination merely weeks before.
But, as is always seems to be the case, Riley and those championship rings of his prevailed.
February 8, 2013: Still Getting Better
When Chris "Birdman" Anderson joined the Heat for the rest of the season, their quest for a repeat received a demonstrative boost.
Though 34, and averaging just over 13 minutes per game, Andersen has been just the physical post presence Miami needed. He's posting 9.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per 36 minutes, and the Heat are allowing fewer points with him on the floor.
Not known for his offense (at all), Andersen is still exceptionally athletic. He's built to bang down low in the post with the rest of the league's centers, but can run the break and soar through the air effectively.
Riley just keeps on rolling dice, and the Heat continue to be better off for it.
Now: Bordering on Perfection
It doesn't get better than the Heat. Not even close.
Miami isn't just in possession of the league's best record, but the team is riding the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. They're poised to make a play for 1971-72 record of 33 consecutive victories, set by a Lakers team Riley played for, and seemingly have one hand on the 2013 title.
Look at the Heat, and you'll still see imperfections.
They're last in rebounds per game (38.4), their defense has been inconsistent and even Miller's (and Anthony's) contract comes to mind.
In spite of such flaws the Heat haven't just thrived, they're dominating. They're making history amid struggles.
Which team is as close to perfection as there is in the NBA?
They're persevering through the lofty standard that has been set for them. And they're doing so together, complementing one another almost perfectly.
So forget about their rebounding deficiencies and their near losses. Forget about 2014 and all the ambivalence it poses.
Then remember that Riley has created what equates to a masterpiece.
"Just say I love him," Riley said of James (via Ian O'Connor of ESPNNewYork.com) after watching the Heat dismantle the Knicks in the playoffs last year.
After all the charismatic Riley has done, and seeing what the Heat have been able to accomplish as a result, let's "just say" all of South Beach loves Pat, too.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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