Can ‘retool, not rebuild’ fix the Miami Heat?

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Sunday, June 22, 2014


PAT Riley, back in 1972, played guard/forward for the Los Angeles Lakers team that won the NBA title. Years after, this time as assistant coach, he helped win the Lakers a championship (1980). And when finally given the chance to be at the helm in LA, he amassed one of history’s most stellar of achievements: winning the NBA ring five times as Lakers head coach. Not contented, he moved east to Miami 19 years ago and, last year and the year before that, won back-to-back trophies as Miami Heat team president. He stands as the first person in North America to win major championships as a player, coach and executive.

Standing 6’4,” Riley is no longer young; he’s 69. And, with white gelled hair and a serious demeanor, he looks like the actor Anthony Hopkins.
Riley was dead-serious when he spoke a few days ago. “I’m pissed,” he complained. The reason? Critics worldwide have been calling for the dismantling of his team. After the San Antonio Spurs dismantled LeBron & Co., the media have lambasted the Heat as losers.

Riley’s message: “Take a grip.” In plain language, it means: Relax, guys. Take it easy. Don’t jump to far-flung conclusions. It’s not the end of the world!

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For Miami fans, it was. Brutalized by SAS for three straight games (twice in the American Airlines Arena) with winning margins of 19, 21 and 17 from Games 3 to 5, it was an embarrassment for the Heat.

“This stuff is hard,” explained Riley. He’s asking all of us to take a look at the larger picture. “This is four years now into this era, this team,” he said. “Four Finals. It’s only been done three other times before. Two championships. From day one, to the end, it was like a Broadway show. It sort of ran out of steam.”

Like the scorching sun that broils South Beach, the Heat didn’t sizzle. They fizzled. Winning their first three playoff rounds, 4-0, 4-1 and 4-2, en route to the Finals, they had momentum. Sadly, they bumped into a more well-oiled machine, the Spurs.

Relax, Pat says. “We need to retool, we don’t need to rebuild,” he said. By this, he means, ‘Big Three, stay put. Don’t leave. We’ll add a few pieces to our broken puzzle and we’ll win that ring in 2015. Don’t go.’
In his words, Riley said, “You have to stay together and find the guts. You don’t find the (exit) door and run out of it ... What really cements a forever bond is going through what we went through this year and staying the course.”

Who was Riley speaking to? The media. It was a press conference. But who was he really imparting his message to? It’s obvious: the three amigos.
The question: Will LeBron, Dwayne and Chris leave? They can. Based on their contracts, they can jump to another city. The interesting day is July 1 -- that’s next Tuesday -- when the free agency opens. There’ll be a flurry of trades and changes, all exciting.

Like you, I don’t think the Big Three will splinter. LeBron’s “The Decision” experience when he bolted Cleveland for Miami was just four years ago -- that’s quite recent. I doubt it if he’ll want to relive that sour moment again, when the world will chastise him for being a “coward” by leaving. Like he often does -- and like all winners do -- he’ll take the recent loss as a challenge. So they’ll be back.

The question is: Who else will they bring to South Beach? If it’s another Spurs-Heat duel in ’15, with both teams intact, the tipsters will heavily favor Texas against Florida. And isn’t Wade getting older? His knees, wobbly? This is the challenge for Riley. It’s not convincing his guys to stay; they will. It’s who he’ll add to complement Mr. James, who was stellar all season long. Riley said so himself: “It’s up to us and myself to be able to go out and operate within these [salary cap] rules, to retool and complement those players. We’ve been able to do that the last couple of years. There’s no reason to think that we can’t again. … I guarantee you there will be other players who want to come down here. Who they are, we’ll find out.”

Bledsoe? Anthony? Lowry? (john@pages.ph)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 22, 2014.

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