The Next Big Miami Heat Move: Pat Riley to the Bench
He has been the head coach of five NBA Champion teams with two franchises. He is a three-time NBA Coach of the Year. As a player and coach, he owns seven rings. He has coached in nine NBA Finals. Only Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens have won more regular season games. Only Phil Jackson has won more playoff games.
He is Pat Riley, and it may just be time to bring him back to an NBA sideline.
The three greatest NBA coaches ever are quite possibly Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson, and Riley. The common denominator among those three men: they each coached some of the greatest players of all-time. Auerbach with Cousy, Havlicek, Russell, Heinsohn, and others. Jackson with Jordan, Pippen, O'Neal, and Bryant. Riley with Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Worthy, Ewing, and Wade.
It is this impressive list of qualifications that scream for Pat Riley to return to NBA coaching, as the head coach of the Miami Heat.
The only person in the NBA more qualified to coach a trio of players as gifted as James-Wade-Bosh is Phil Jackson. And the argument can be made Riley is even more able to coach star-studded teams.
His first job as a head coach came with the Los Angeles Lakers. There, under violent media coverage and scrutiny, Riley headed a team that featured Kareem, Magic, and Worthy. That trio is among the greatest ever.
In New York, possibly the only more scrutinized sports market than L.A., Riley coached Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, and John Starks. While they did not win a title, the Riley-coached Knicks are among the greatest New York teams in history.
This is an amazing track record of coaching great players on great teams. It shows one major aspect of Riley's coaching ability: he is able to massage egos and keep stars focused on the prize, not on their own games. This is a skill that he would undoubtedly need in attempting to coach such megastars as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Another notable Pat Riley talent is his ability to adapt his style to the team. Unlike Phil Jackson, who has run the triangle offense throughout his entire career, Riley has made dramatic changes based on his personnel.
In L.A., with legendary big man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Riley initially focused on getting the Captain the ball. As Kareem began to age, the focus moved to Magic Johnson and his electrifying Showtime fast break. This style led to the first back-to-back titles since the 1960s Boston Celtics.
Moving to New York, a team that featured to powerful, banging big men in Ewing and Oakley, Riley created one of the slowest paced, most physical teams in NBA history. The defensive wars caused by this style were ugly to watch, but led New York to the NBA Finals.
In Miami, Coach Slick built a team around Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning. Later, he would create a championship team featuring the inside play of an aging Shaquille O'Neal, as well as the unstoppable driving ability of a young Dwyane Wade.
At this point, it's hard to figure what type of game the new-look Miami Heat will play. However, there has never been a coach more qualified to decide the direction of a star-studded team than Pat Riley.
All of these facts relate the Riley's coaching ability. There is, however, a massively underrated aspect to his leadership: his off-court persona. Pat Riley has become a celebrity in his own right. He has become a pop-culture figure, with his development of the terms "Showtime," "Three-Peat," and his guarantee of back-to-back titles. Not to mention his slick Armani suits.
That off-court persona allows Riley to effectively coach stars. He takes much of the pressure off of his studs, and allows them to focus on the game. It also makes him easy to play for. Players have always given Pat Riley rave reviews, stating that he's a fun-but-professional man who knows how to win and cares about nothing else. This is just what is necessary for the new Heat.
For all of these reasons, Pat Riley would be a perfect fit as the head coach of the Miami Heat. However, I don't want him to coach the Heat because he can make them a winner; I want him to coach the Heat for the hype.
The last team to be as hyped as the 2010-2011 Miami Heat was the 2003-2004 Los Angeles Lakers. That team featured Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone, and Gary Payton. A team like that was bound to be hyped. However, by being coached by Phil Jackson, they took hype to another level.
If Erik Spoelstra coaches LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and a bunch of minimum contracts, then we are getting sold short. If Coach Slick heads this team of stars, we are in for a wild, ultra-hyped ride.
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