Pat Riley won’t let emotion of a feel-good season get in the way of business this offseason

MIAMI — This season’s Heat team turned into a feel-good story that ended with tears inside of the locker room after just missing the playoffs. But don’t expect team president Pat Riley to let emotion get in the way of business this summer.

“I’m not all goose-bumply and fuzzy-haired. That’s not my makeup,” Riley said Wednesday during his 47-minute season-ending press conference.

After spending the first three minutes of his press conference discussing the season that just ended, Riley moved on. The 72-year-old moved on to the Heat’s position entering a long offseason that began last week.

[Pat Riley in postseason press conference, ‘I’m pissed off’ about not making playoffs]

[Pat Riley was ‘hurting’ when Miami Heat did not make playoffs]

One thing is clear, Riley is going to explore his different options this offseason. With the Heat expected to have about $38 million in cap space after it clears Chris Bosh’s contract off their salary cap, Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg will have room to work on tweaking the roster this summer.

Miami also has a first-round pick this year, with the Heat entering the draft lottery with a 98.2 percent chance of having the 14th overall pick.

Miami Heat NBA basketball team president Pat Riley talks to the media during a season ending press conference in Miami, Wednesday, April 19, 2017. (David Santiago/El Nuevo Herald via AP)

“So while we’re not in the playoffs, I think we’re ahead of the game and I think the table is set with the [draft] pick,” Riley said. “I think we obviously know that we have flexibility in free agency so we’ll see how we do there and how that works out with our players and with other players.”

With three players on the Heat’s roster — Luke Babbitt, Udonis Haslem, James Johnson — set to turn into unrestricted free agents this offseason and another four players — Wayne Ellington, Josh McRoberts, Willie Reed, Dion Waiters — who could turn into free agents this offseason because of either a team option or player option in their contracts, Miami’s roster could look very different next season.

Or it could look very similar to the Heat roster that posted a 30-11 record over the second half of the season and just missed the playoffs.

“We are going to focus on our guys, really focus on this group of guys,” Riley said. “We will always observe what’s going on in free agency. We have that flexibility. When you have a draft pick and a lot of players on your team you like, you are in a good position to move forward.”

In last year’s season-ending press conference, Riley said the Heat were “looking for a whale” entering an offseason that featured a free agent class headlined by Kevin Durant. When asked Wednesday about going after “a whale” this offseason, Riley shied away from the question as he referred to the new collective-bargaining agreement that has added incentives for big-name free agents to re-sign with their teams.

“I regret ever making that statement because now that’s always out there,” Riley said when asked if he will chase “a whale” this offseason. “I think the collective-bargaining agreement is going to dictate a lot of things about free agency. … For any great player who plays with a team, they are going to have to give great pause to probably walk away from $65 to $70 million or whatever the number might be to go somewhere else. He’s going to really have to want to come to you or he’s going to want to leave where he is.”

This season’s free agent class isn’t the most attractive group. Even with names like Stephen Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Gordon Hayward expected to enter free agency this summer, the chances of those players leaving their current teams aren’t very high.

Riley admitted that acquiring a star player through a trade could be a more realistic option.

“You don’t have to go whale hunting,” Riley said. “I think you can acquire and I think you’ll be required sometimes to get key players via trade instead of going out and laying out $38 million for a guy. Some of these guys’ max contracts are ridiculous. But that’s the nature of the new collective-bargaining agreement.”

So what will the Heat do with all of their cap space this summer? Another very realistic option is to bring back Johnson and Waiters.

After turning in career seasons, Johnson and Waiters are expected to get big pay raises this summer in free agency. Both have expressed a strong desire to re-sign with the Heat, but bringing both back is expected to cost around $30 million.

Add in Ellington’s $6.3 million team option the Heat have to bring back the sharpshooter next season, and Miami could use most of their cap space to retain Johnson, Waiters and Ellington this summer. This scenario wouldn’t bring in “a whale,” but it would bring back the core that recorded the NBA’s second-best record since Jan. 17.

“I hope that Dion and James and the rest of our free agents like it here enough that we’re going to be fair with them and they’ll be fair with us,” Riley said. “We’re in a whole new era now with free agency.”

While free agency may have changed, the Heat’s main objective has not.

“I think the fans here in Miami appreciate what we do, but they also appreciate the fact we want to bring more quicker to the table,” Riley said. “And I want to play for [a championship]. That’s what we want to compete for. So, that’s what it’s always been about and that’s what it will be about. I don’t know how this summer is going to work out.

“I just want to have a good summer, come back and have a great team and contend for championships. I don’t know how many more non-playoff years I could take.”

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