Miami Heat president Pat Riley’s end of the season press conferences never disappoint and this year’s edition was chock-full of insight and observations about the present and the future of the team. Riley talked with reporters for more than 45 minutes Wednesday at the AmericanAirlines Arena and here are some of the highlights.
On the 2016-17 season and falling short of the playoffs:
“(There’s) the feeling of a team sort of making itself while you’re trying to make a team, sometimes can be a little conflicted for me because of what we have to do this summer. While I feel absolutely great about what happened, I think all of you know me, I’m not happy about not being in the playoffs at all.
“I have a saying that if you’re going to come all the way back from 20 down in a game, don’t ever let them back in...and we sort of paid the price for that. That being said, the ultimate goal was to get into the playoffs and compete. I think that what we’ve seen in the playoffs that this particular team, which made itself through incredible coaching and leadership by Spo and his staff, also the leadership on the court by the players and coming together, it was a disappointment. I am not all goose-bumply and fuzzy haired. That’s not my makeup. Maybe there has to be somebody like that, but I do love this team and I love what we have built.”
On free agency and whether or not he’s interested in retaining the roster for next season:
“Last year, in free agency, when we signed the five guys, when the room opened up, I remember making one statement about let’s see who emerges, what players will emerge. We might find some surprises or players we really like with this build with Goran (Dragic) and Hassan (Whiteside) and Justise (Winslow), etc. I don’t think there’s any doubt there were three or four guys who emerged that we feel very good about.
“So while we’re not in the playoffs, we’re ahead of the game. I think the table is set with the pick. We obviously know that we have flexibility in free agency so we will see how that works out with our players and with other players.
“It was a great disappointment but at the same time there was a lot of success. I don’t think there’s any doubt that we found a lot of seeds that we’re able to plant into making a team a lot quicker than in the past.”
On pursuing top free agents this summer:
“I regret ever making that statement (about landing a ‘whale’) because now it’s always out there. The collective bargaining agreement is going to dictate a lot of things about free agency. If you go back to 2010 when we were fortunate to be able to secure the services of LeBron, CB and Dwyane, the rules were different. The money was lower. They could sign 6-year deals, we had sign-and-trades, all of those things. Today it’s a lot different for any great player is going to have to give great pause to walk away from $65 million to $70 million or whatever the number might be to go somewhere else. He’s going to have to want to really come to you or he’s going to want to leave where he is.
“So we’re going to focus on our guys and we have found out something about three of these guys that I felt last year that they had something but they were never really given the platform. Erik gave them the platform and over the course of time you could see the player who at times had high expectations could really perform and produce. We liked what we saw. First things first is to focus on our team and we’ll always observe what’s going on in free agency. We do have that flexibility, and with the draft pick and you have a lot of players on your team that you like, then you’re in a good position to move forward.”
On whether the team can improve by retaining most of the roster intact:
“If you are looking at Golden State and Cleveland, those teams and Houston and San Antonio, the top four teams in the league, what happens to the other teams in the Eastern Conference that have improved with Washington, Boston and Atlanta and so forth. So yes, you have to say to yourself, I want to get there as quickly as we can and contend so you’ve got to be honest with yourself. Even if you brought all of these guys back with the 14th pick and some kind of room exception for a veteran that’s a good player, can you beat those teams? You will never know unless you get there.
“I think the fans here appreciate what we do but they also appreciate we want to bring more quicker to the table. I want to play for that. That’s what we want to compete for. That’s what it’s always been about and it will always be about. You don’t have have to go whale hunting. You can acquire key players via trade, instead of going out and laying out $38 million for a guy. Some of these guys’ max numbers are ridiculous. That’s the nature of the new collective bargaining agreement.”
Riley declined to comment on where the Heat currently stand with Chris Bosh and his salary cap space but did add his thoughts on the situation:
“It’s been discussed but there is no resolution to it right now. But yes, down the road, we don’t have Chris’ services. There isn’t anybody in this organization that feels worse for CB than I do. It got a little sideways at the end because of feelings and things of that nature. The last three years for a professional basketball player to go through what he went through had to be horrible for him, just the feeling that he couldn’t compete, that he couldn’t play the game that he loved.
“We did not have him for two months in the first year. We didn’t have him for the two months when we probably could have gotten to the Finals last year and now we didn’t have him this year. So we’ve dealt with that as an organization and try to work our way around that as an organization. As far as all of the other things go, in due time, it will run its course.”
On Hassan Whiteside’s progress:
“There is so much more we need from him for us to beat Golden State or the world champions up in Ohio or any other team that is going to be the world champion. We are going to need to have a championship center. He has the capability of being that. We know him across the board in every aspect. He also understands his responsibilities.
“Erik and I discuss a lot of things about Hassan and how he can better help us. Can he be a 17, 14 and 4 guy that shoots 61% and 70% from the line.. which is what I think he is right about now... or can he be a 25 and 17 and 6 player? I think he can be that. But you have to carve out something more for him offensively. Once you feed him that, he may be able to go there, but you've got to put him in that position to see if he can do that. He has the ability to put up bigger numbers, but will those bigger numbers equal wins? We have to get those 30, 20, 10 nights out of him five times a year. I think he has the ability. I’m proud of him. I’m glad that we made him a priority last summer in signing him. I think he has taken on that responsibility.”
On his own future with the organization:
“I just want to have a great summer and come back and have a great team and try to compete for championships. I don’t know how many more non-playoff years I can take or I’d want to take. I’m not so sure that if we had non-playoff years that I even deserve to be here.
“We have a good group of guys. I love this group of guys to build this team from. I hope that Dion and James and the rest of our free agents like it here enough. We’re going to be fair with them and they’ll be fair with us. We’re in a whole new era and a different stage with free agency.”
On Dion Waiters:
“I don’t know if there are two tougher-minded guards in the league than Goran and Dion. Dion has this affable defiance, which he and I talk about this all the time, which I like. You’ve got to have that in a guy that wants to win games and takes big shots. The two of them, with how they play, the did complement each other. Both are attackers. Dion can create space and get to areas of the court, where he can get up shots in late clock situations. He is going become a better finisher, higher percentage. He gets into the paint 14 times a game.
“He realizes now what it takes to be a great player. Here he played 30 plus minutes a game and got starter’s minutes, and you saw during those times that he could be efficient. We just want to improve his efficiency. The consistency in minutes and the work that he put on the court with the coaches increased the efficiency versus playing in 17 minutes a game and having every now and then the opportunity to be the guy.”
“We don’t forget what Tyler Johnson brings in. Tyler brings in another level of attack. We love our perimeter players. We think Dion in more than a sample size of 46 games to challenge him to be that kind of a guard. He has the ability to shoot over 40 percent from three. He has the ability to be a 47, 48 percent field goal percentage guy. If he gets over 50 then look out. What bothers me is he is not making 85 percent of his free throws. He has that in him. We saw enough of it. Plus, we like him. We really like him. He’s a good guy.”
On the Heat’s second-year players Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson:
“I think both players give us the opportunity to move forward without being a lottery team every year to get better. They were like spark plugs (coming off the bench late last season). Anything they did was over the top and it was a high moment. They were great, they had energy, they dunked, they defended. Josh got on this incredible three-point run at the end of the season. They got great experience going into the semifinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Those two players are part of our future, a big part of our future.
“I will take exception with some of you here in the media, though it’s your right because you’re always in the numbers and looking at specific things. I’ve been around players like Justise Winslow for a long time. He is more than a shooter. He is a player, warrior, defender, has tremendous energy, and he cares about winning. He always tries to make winning plays. The guy had a tough ride this year. He had the sprained wrist and played with it the entire time while we were going through struggles. Separated his shoulder, had to have surgery. I took a look at a lot of those guys like Justise who came in as one and done guys. He just turned 21 the other day. Kawhi Leonard averaged eight points a game his first year. Six years later, he’s 25. We are measuring this guy after 75 games. I think that’s unfair.
“I wish you would get off his three-point shooting because he’s so much more than that. He’s a player that creates coast-to-coast. When you have Dion and Wayne Ellington and you have James and Tyler and you have others and Goran, you are going to need a player that’s sort of like the backbone of your team, a glue guy. So it bothers me when you’re taking away from a guy after 75 games from being on the court. It’s unfair to him. Give him a chance. He ain’t going anywhere. I’ve read somewhere you can package him here, package him there. I try to tell him not to read anything. He’s got something to prove. There’s no doubt. I’ll you what, he’ll prove it. He’s more than just that. He’s a winner. We’re glad to have him.”