Pat Riley dishes on state of Miami Heat and what’s next

Barry Jackson
·10 min read

Heat president Pat Riley addressed numerous issues Friday in his first briefing with reporters since COVID-19 temporarily suspended play in March and since his team made an improbable run to the NBA Finals.

Some highlights:

Riley said he would “like to bring everybody back and add to the mix.” He made clear how much he loves this team.

“Do you just run it back without doing anything if you get the cooperation… from free agents? I think about that. Can we get through the Eastern Conference next year with what’s happening in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, what’s going to happen in Brooklyn, Boston, Toronto. There are a lot of very good teams. That’s a question I’ll kick around in my mind. I’ll talk to Spo [coach Erik Spoelstra] about it.

“We know we have a very competitive team and a culture players want to be part of. A lot of players possibly like what they see with us. Are we good enough or do we need the next thing earlier?”

Riley was asked if there’s a hope to land another whale in free agency, which would appear to be the case.

“Jimmy Butler chose us, this team, this owner, this president, this city,” Riley said. “Jimmy is a whale or an orca. I’ve not witnessed a player that good who can do so many things and be unselfish. He’s great for us to have. . . . We’d like to find some more, if we can find ‘em.”

Does the Heat want to be a room team (with an undetermined amount of cap space) this summer or operate as an over-the-cap team, which would allow them to exceed the cap to re-sign Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder and its other free agents and use a midlevel exception of $9.5 million?

Riley didn’t commit to which approach he prefers.

“We need to remain fluid and once we get all the numbers and know the dates and rules, once we get all of that, we will remain fluid and whatever presents itself, we will look at.

“I really would like to take care of our own, but we want that other box to be filled which is called flexibility. It’s the player’s option in a lot of cases with guys that have opt outs.”

Riley made clear how much he values Adebayo — who can be a restricted free agent in 2021 (with the Heat holding the right to match outside offers), but he also is eligible for a maximum extension from Miami this summer.

Riley declined to say if he would ask Adebayo and his agent to wait for a year on an extension because waiting a year would give the Heat more cap room in 2021. (There’s at least a $12 million difference in what Adebayo’s cap hit would be depending on whether he signs a new deal with the Heat this offseason or next offseason.)

“I don’t want to get into any discussions about that,” Riley said. “The hypotheticals, that’s what they are. When it comes to our players we want to take care of them. We value Bam. He’s an All-Star and great and we will do what is in our best interest. That’s what we have to do. There hasn’t been any real discussions with anybody.

“We have to let people catch their breath and free agents have to think about things. We love Bam — he’s a cornerstone to our franchise and it’s in our best interest to make sure we do the right thing with him...

“When we drafted Bam, we didn’t think he would be an All-Star this quick. When we found out the level of his character along with his talent, we knew we had something special. He’s a multifaceted player right now, and his game needs to expand and will expand. He’s a player that’s going to work at it.”

Riley suggested this year’s success won’t affect the master plan (which had been in part to retain big cap space in 2021), but he and the rest of the front office and coaches need “to do a deep dive about how good we really are right now.

“In February, when we made that transaction sending out Justise Winslow [for three players], we always have had in mind… having some flexibility unless you are locked into what we were locked into when we had the Big 3.

“At that point, you’re going for it. We are not at that point. With what happened with our team, it doesn’t change my thought process of let’s go through it now again. We’ll stay the course with our picks and young players. We have decisions to make with free agents.

“I’m not going to say the bubble helped us and we’re not as good as someone thinks we should be because of the bubble. Flexibility with draft picks and free agency are coming next. My thinking hasn’t changed. If there’s a next thing that presents itself that could take us to another level talent wise, I’m open to it.”

Riley’s opening statement included, among other things, this: “It was a great year… Our staff,... our players, especially Udonis Haslem as a leader, making the trade for Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Solomon Hill.

“We ended up having a great season. Very disappointed we couldn’t finish this year with a championship, but I feel so good about this team and what’s ahead of us. The cupboard is more full than ever. Six first-round picks in the next eight years; three second-round picks [in the years ahead]. We have a lot of assets. A lot of very good young players, lot of great young talent. I’m very optimistic about what’s ahead of us.

“I want to thank Eric Amsler, Chet Kammerer, Adam Simon, our scouting staff, all those guys that hunt down talent for the Miami Heat. I take very little credit for that. I want to thank them so much for being able to fill up the cupboard with young talent.

“Thanking Jimmy Butler for coming here. Spo and his staff put together a great program, his leadership, his mentoring, not only teaching players what it was about to play for the Heat. His staff is incredible. Just two games short of winning a championship, I can’t thank them enough.

Riley said this wasn’t a case of ‘I had to do with anything [accomplished] last year.’ I had a great meeting with Jimmy Butler” - and Riley joked that’s the extent of his major contributions.

Riley thanked the training staff, too.

The 2020-21 salary cap number isn’t known yet and Riley said “it would be nice to have all the numbers and everything in a tiny little binder. But because of the pandemic, the NBA and players association are going to try to get that together.

“We know what our priorities are; it’s to take care of the players that we have that we need to make decisions on immediately. We have a decision to make with Bam [regarding the possible max extension this summer or waiting until after next season]. Bam has a decision to make.

“It’s going to be dicey because of wanting that flexibility. We have to take care of our own, but we don’t want to surrender that opportunity if it’s there.”

Besides Dragic and Crowder, the Heat’s other unrestricted free agents are Meyers Leonard, Derrick Jones Jr., Solomon Hill and Udonis Haslem. The NBA hasn’t said when free agency will begin. The league reportedly would like to begin next season Christmas week.

The Heat has the 20th pick in the Nov. 18 NBA Draft and must exercise the pick but can draft a player on behalf of another team and then trade that player after the draft.

Does Miami want to keep its draft pick?

“We are going to use the pick,” Riley said. “Whether or not we keep it remains to be seen. I’m not concerned about having too many young players today. They’re more ready to play and perform [than years ago].”

He also said the draft pick “can get you an asset” from another team.

But Riley noted these rookie players “will have not played basketball for eight, nine months [because of the cancellation of the remainder of the college basketball season in mid-March]. They are going to miss a lot. If you’re into the next season, they might not develop as quick as you think they can.”

He said: “I’m beginning to dive into the draft and look at players.”

He praised Spoelstra, predicting he would be in the Hall of Fame one day: “I know what his value is. One day he will be a coach of the year and probably multiple times. He’s about winning. He had a great year. I had nothing to do with anything up in the bubble.”

On Tyler Herro: “We knew he could shoot the ball. We knew he was competitive. We felt he was a great choice. He grew through listening and he grew through the mentorship of Udonis, Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, all of those guys, especially the ones that came at midseason. All of these veterans took him under his wing because they saw something special.

“He got better… as a shot maker. He got better at handling the ball. He’s a very efficient offensive player… great kid. We have something special in him. He just turned 20. My gosh, he had a great year.

“We’re happy to have him, K-Nunn [Kendrick Nunn], Duncan [Robinson], Bam, what a young nucleus we have…. It’s going to make it a loss easier for us to bring other people here knowing they can play in big moments.”

Reflecting on the six-game Finals loss, he said: “I would like to see what it would be like with everybody whole. We’ll get our chance again. The Lakers have the greatest player in the game today in LeBron [James] and Anthony Davis.

“They beat us fair and squarely. But there will be always be that asterisk; if we had Bam and Goran 100 percent — Goran was our leading scorer [entering the Finals] — it might have gone to a seventh game.”

How long does Riley want to remain with the Heat?

“As long as Micky Arison wants me to do it. If you guys will stop printing my age in every article, nobody would know I’m 75 years old…. This is one of my favorite teams now. I’m here as long as Micky wants me here and Nick [Arison].

“I have a great relationship with Micky and Nick, the CEO. [General manager] Andy [Elisburg] and I are fused at the hip, think alike. To have Andy is incredible to me. To be able to manage Spo, this is a dream for me.”

On his relationship with Butler: “I love Jimmy Butler. My relationship with him was outside of the box because I don’t want to get in the way of what Erik and his coaching staff are teaching him. We text; it’s short. I don’t want to interfere on that basis every single night, texting guys. As long as he throws me a heart back, I’m cool. I think he loves it here because we don’t bother him that much.”

Regarding Leonard, Jones Jr. and Nunn:

“I love those players — Meyers Leonard, I haven’t been around a player like him that is sincere with his enthusiasm for the game. Things changed in the bubble.

“K-Nunn it happened to him also. He never really got back to what he was and we know what he can do and the same thing with Derrick. What changed for Derrick was the addition of Andre and Jae midseason.

“I feel bad for Derrick. I feel bad for Meyers. They know they are in a good organization. They are both free agents. We are going to talk to them like everybody else.

“Spo felt the best move for the players was to go smaller. Whether that changes in the future? The Lakers were big, were massive. We have good size with Bam and Meyers and Kelly.”