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Should it be easy for Pat Riley to build contending teams?

Justin Termine said Pat Riley doesn’t get criticized for failing to bring stars in.

2020 NBA Finals - Los Angeles Lakers v Miami Heat Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Speaking on the Bill Simmons podcast, Justin Termine criticized Miami Heat President Pat Riley for not making any moves to upgrade the roster this off-season. But his comments broadened to cast aspersions on Riley overall.

In the clip above, Termine argues that Danny Ainge was often blasted for almost-but-not-quite making trades for stars during his tenure with the Boston Celtics. Every star gets linked to the Heat, but Riley doesn’t get criticized for the same failure to land stars, he said.

On some level, it’s a fair point. As I’ve discussed, Riley made plenty of mistakes after LeBron James’ departure in 2014. The Heat missed out on Kevin Durant in 2016 and Gordon Hayward in 2017 — the latter case I consider dodging a bullet. But those were both free agency decisions on their parts; Riley didn’t have several young assets and ultimately decide not to trade them for a superstar.

To take just one example from the Ainge era, the Celtics could’ve traded Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart for Kawhi Leonard in the 2018 off-season, but decided not to. Therefore, comparing Riley and Ainge isn’t apples-to-apples. Of course, we can blame Riley for failing to collect young assets, but that was the cost of making the sign-and-trades for James and Chris Bosh in 2010.

Termine then says that Miami is a destination for free agents like Los Angeles, but comes with no state income tax. While he says Riley and Andy Elisburg are competent, Termine argues that it should be easy to build a team there. Simmons then says Miami may get thrown into discussions because they “pulled the rabbit out of the hat” a few times — trading for Jimmy Butler with no cap space in 2019, trading for Goran Dragic in 2015 and Kyle Lowry last year. But Simmons says those may have been “isolated situations.”

He doesn’t mention the Big Three free agency coup or signing Ray Allen in 2012. How many examples does it take for something to go from “isolated situations” to consistency?

Simmons says year one of the Lowry experiment “didn’t work” — a fair point, as Riley challenged him to get in better shape — but the Heat came within a basket of the 2022 NBA Finals with a hobbled Lowry. And they secured the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference despite lengthy absences from Lowry, Butler and Bam Adebayo.

Since Riley’s arrival, we’ve seen the Alonzo Mourning build that featured four 50-win seasons (with plenty of early playoff disappointments, to be sure). Then the Dwyane Wade/Shaquille O’Neal build won Miami’s first championship. The Big Three era featured four straight trips to the Finals. And now, the Butler era has featured two deep playoff runs in three seasons.

How many franchises can point to that record of sustained excellence? And it’s not all because of the lack of state income tax and good weather. It’s because of good management.