5 Best Offseasons for Pat Riley with Miami Heat
It has become a ritual of summer.
With limited resources, due to a maxed-out salary cap and increasing luxury tax penalties, Pat Riley has managed to add an attractive piece to the Miami Heat at a lower price than others were offering.
In 2011, it was Shane Battier, the ultimate glue guy, who shunned several suitors (including the Oklahoma City Thunder) because Riley was offering not only a chance for a championship, but also a third year. Battier ended up starting in the 2012 NBA Finals victory against the Thunder.
In 2012, it was Ray Allen, one of the all-time elite shooters, who ditched the Boston Celtics, and turned down the Memphis Grizzlies, to take a sixth man role. Allen went on to hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history, sending Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals to overtime.
In 2013, it is Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NBA draft, who was pursued by six teams but decided Miami was the ideal place to resume his rehabilitation.
Earlier in the summer, Riley downplayed his role in Miami's success:
I’ve been apart of nine championship teams I’ve been lucky, very fortunate, I say that with great humility to be part of the Lakers and the Heat, those are the two teams that these championships have come from, two great organizations, two great owners who are willing to win and do whatever it takes to win.
That's true. But you still need to close. And that, Riley repeatedly does.
That's evident in the fact that the three aforementioned offseasons don't rank in the top five for Riley since Micky Arison pulled him away from the New York Knicks in 1995.
Nor does his free-agent pull of 2000 (Eddie Jones, Brian Grant), which blew up when Alonzo Mourning got sick. Nor does his drafting of Caron Butler at No. 10 overall in 2002, though that worked out rather well.
The top five follow.
(All quotes for this piece were collected through the course of the author's coverage of the Miami Heat for The Palm Beach Post.)
2005: A Risky Trade Pays off
At first, the trade didn't make a lot of sense.
Not to many media members who cover the Miami Heat.
Not even to Dwyane Wade.
In his book, A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball, Wade acknowledged that he had this reaction to the acquisitions of volatile personalities James Posey, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and Gary Payton during the 2005 offseason:
"Are you kidding me? They've blown up the team that was one game away from the finals and brought in some old guys."
Then the team started 11-10 in 2005-06, and Wade felt that "the season matched the magic and flow of the previous year," and that "we weren't much better than an average team."
At that point, Pat Riley took over for Stan Van Gundy as the coach, for reasons that are still in some dispute; Shaquille O'Neal returned from injury; and the Heat started to get it together.
They finished 52-30.
They weren't favored entering the playoffs and, in the first round against a young Chicago Bulls squad, were actually tied at two games apiece, with Wade and Gary Payton arguing on the United Center court in a listless Game 4.
But slowly, Riley's slogan for the squad, "15 Strong," started to resonate.
Miami ripped the New Jersey Nets in the second round, avenged the previous Eastern Conference Finals by taking out the Detroit Pistons and rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
Wade was the Finals MVP.
Riley was validated again, as a coach, and a GM.
2004: Stealing Shaquille O'Neal
There was trouble in paradise.
And, true to his nature, Pat Riley pounced.
Riley was well aware of Shaquille O'Neal's frustration with one of his former bosses, Jerry Buss, related to a contract extension.
And he knew that if O'Neal wanted a change of scenery, from Kobe Bryant and rest of the Los Angeles Lakers, he could provide an attractive, warm-weather landing spot, attractive enough for O'Neal to waive his no-trade clause.
He also knew that the Miami Heat had two young pieces, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom, that would give the Lakers the opportunity to reload after O'Neal.
So he pulled off the swap that shook up the 2004 offseason, moving Butler, Odom, Brian Grant's contract and draft choices for a center who, at the time, was 32 years old.
And he did so, most importantly, without giving up Dwyane Wade.
Wade and O'Neal quickly became one of the most dynamic duos in the NBA, winning 59 games and taking a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons, before Wade's rib injury stalled them a game short of the NBA Finals.
O'Neal finished second in the MVP voting to Steve Nash.
He changed the culture in Miami.
And while the situation eventually went sour, with O'Neal missing plenty of court time due to questionable ailments and ripping the Heat organization in general (and Riley in particular) on the way out the door, O'Neal did help bring an NBA championship (2006) to Miami.
That was the first, a major breakthrough after the Heat had come up short with a contender so often in the late 1990s.
1996: The 1st Centerpiece, Alonzo Mourning
That's how long it took for Pat Riley to put his stamp on the Miami Heat.
Acquired from the New York Knicks for a first-round pick and $1 million to run the Heat organization on September 1, 1995, Riley got to work creating the sort of team he'd want to coach.
His first major target was Alonzo Mourning.
It made sense. Mourning was a product of Georgetown University, just like Patrick Ewing, the center Riley had built his team around in New York. He was intense, tough and defensive-minded, traits Riley greatly appreciates.
Also, Mourning was disenchanted as a Charlotte Hornet, making him available.
So, the day prior to the 1995-96 regular season, Riley dealt sharp-shooter Glen Rice, a first-round pick and some spare parts to get a center who could be his centerpiece.
It turned out to be a near-perfect partnership. Mourning, schooled by John Thompson, bought into "The Riley Way" immediately, parroting Riley's pet phrases ("adversity introduces a man to himself") and anchoring his defensive sets.
During their time together, Riley and Mourning had everything but luck.
First, the Heat lost three playoff series, in four years, to the Knicks as a higher seed.
Then, as Mourning appeared to be entering his prime (coming off a 21.7 point, 9.5 rebound season at age 29), and with Eddie Jones and Brian Grant added as complementary parts, he was stricken by kidney disease.
It was only after he left, and returned as a super-sub behind Shaquille O'Neal, that he broke through as a champion.
It all traced back to Nov. 3, 1996, and Riley's culture-changing move.
2003: Drafting Dwyane Wade
As his story goes, Pat Riley was on the treadmill when he spotted the guy who could move the Miami Heat forward.
In reality, it's a bit more complex than that.
Yes, Dwyane Wade had torched Riley's alma mater, the University of Kentucky, in the 2003 Final Four, with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
And, yes, Wade impressed Riley with his NBA-like "defensive stance," which reminded Riley a bit of Michael Jordan.
But Riley still needing convincing—notably from then-general manager Randy Pfund—to take Wade ahead of Central Michigan University center Chris Kaman.
It turned out to be one of Riley's best calls.
Wade averaged 16.2 points and 4.5 assists as a rookie, playing out of position at point guard.
In the first round, playing for coach Stan Van Gundy, Wade made several big shots to beat the New Orleans Hornets. And his strong play, including a soaring dunk over Jermaine O'Neal, helped the Heat push the Indiana Pacers to six games in the second round.
Wade shifted to shooting guard in his second season, and the rest is history.
He's now a three-time NBA champion, a nine-time NBA All-Star and someday will be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Oh, and many fans have renamed Miami's location as "Wade County."
Riley hasn't always hit on his draft picks—Michael Beasley in 2008 was one of many misses.
But the Wade choice makes up for much of that.
2010: The Big Coup to Get the Big 3
Few thought it possible.
Pat Riley plotted for the summer of 2010 for several years, well aware that was the time to strike for NBA All-Stars.
Riley cleared cap space, loading up the 2009-10 roster with expiring contracts, and then giving up former first-round picks Michael Beasley and Daequan Cook for virtually nothing.
The NBA's ultimate gambler, who lives by the credo "winning or misery," then entered what could have been an all-of-nothing signing period.
Naturally, he had a more creative characterization ready:
I think it will be equivalent to a space shuttle launch. Everybody who's covering the day it's going to get launched, you never know it is until they hit the button. When they hit the button, a lot of things explode down underneath to lift the rocket up.
It turned out to be the time when the Heat blasted off.
Riley secured Wade's return first, convinced Bosh to sign on and then waited out James' decision.
Or, rather, "The Decision."
James chose Riley and the Heat, and Riley began filling out the roster with cut-rate contracts, for those returning (Udonis Haslem) and arriving (Mike Miller).
Somehow, Riley had to share the Executive of the Year award with Gar Forman of the Chicago Bulls.
He hasn't had to share the last two championships with anyone.