When the bad news circulated on Twitter yesterday -- LeBron James' decision to go back to Cleveland, Bosh's seemingly imminent deal with the Houston Rockets and news of the Chicago Bulls reaching out to their own native son, Dwyane Wade -- I thought that Pat Riley might've retired.
He is already 69 years old, and must've aged 10 years coaching the disinterested Heat team in 2006-07. He moved permanently to the front office a year later, and savvily cleared the decks for the summer of 2010, when he famously dropped his rings in front of James to sell him on coming to Miami. Now, losing the best player on the planet has undoubtedly set the Heat back. Riley surely doesn't want to spend several years in his seventies trying to rebuild a team. He already did that in the early years of the 2000s and from 2008-2010.
But Riley's statement upon James' departure said something. While it first sent a conciliatory and congratulatory message to James, it had a little bit of pride. He talked about winning multiple championships and competing for many others with the Heat since he arrived in 1995. "We've proven that we can do it and we'll do it again."
Riley is an imperfect basketball manager; one could argue that he could've kept James in Miami had he made a few better moves. In hindsight, Riley should have amnestied Joel Anthony instead of Mike Miller -- saving Micky Arison money and also keeping a solid wing player who had an 82-game season with Memphis last year. His decision to cut Patrick Beverley in training camp before the 2010-11 season is also lamentable, especially after seeing Riley make room for Erick Dampier, Jamaal Magloire, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Juwan Howard that year.
But he is a Hall of Fame basketball mind. He's built three championship-contending rosters with Miami -- the Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway years from 1997-99, the Wade/Shaquille O'Neal duo from 2004-06 and the just-concluded Big Three era. And he also has an ego, like anyone else of his stature in the NBA. That's why he talked about having guts and not finding the first door and running for it in his end-of-year press conference. That's why he talked about building another championship roster the same day the best player in the league left him.
Some have already questioned his max offer to Bosh. At that time -- with James leaving the Heat and nobody else on the roster -- it was the right move. This deal is not like giving a five-year, $100-million contract to O'Neal, which soon turned into an albatross. Bosh will move into the first option now; he and Erik Spoelstra may look at the Dallas Mavericks offense and take a page out of that book. His game will likely age well.
With the news that Carmelo Anthony will re-sign with the Knicks, the East remains wide open. The Heat likely won't stand on the level of the San Antonio Spurs next year without James -- even if Miami manages to sign Luol Deng. But Riley managed to bounce back after Alonzo Mourning's kidney ailment and Shaq's rapid decline. He now has possibly his greatest challenge in front of him: giving Wade one last chance for a title after a four-time MVP left.
Riley's done it before. Will he do it again?