MIAMI – The Miami Heat could not pry Gordon Hayward away from his old college coach, but that is not going to lower President Pat Riley’s expectations.
With Hayward signing with Boston, Riley brought back the nucleus of last year’s team that finished .500 and missed the playoffs because of a tie-breaker, plus added two rotational pieces in big men Kelly Olynyk (free agency) and Bam Adebayo (draft).
That should be enough for the Heat to enter the season not just thinking about making the playoffs but aiming higher, like home court in the first round, Riley believes.
“I think they should be thinking in those terms,” Riley said Monday in a nearly hour long sit down with beat writers. “If you go into the season healthy, in shape and you’re feeling good and there’s been sort of a commitment to one another the sky’s the limit. You got to go for it.”
Riley appears rejuvenated after watching the team’s stunning turnaround last season and then filling out his roster last week by re-signing forward James Johnson and guards Dion Waiters and Wayne Ellington along with adding Olynyk. The Heat, who used every dollar of their cap space, are positioning themselves to fight for one of those top playoff spots in a weakened Eastern Conference.
And Riley already is thinking about that initial message he and coach Erik Spoelstra will have for the team in September.
“As good as we were in the second half of the year we didn’t finish the job,” Riley said. “They have to back up their words somewhat with their play. It will be very interesting. … to see where their heads are. I’m convinced they’ll come ready, they think they’re a good team and they’ll get it together.”
Riley’s optimism stems from the team’s nice recovery after losing out on Hayward. Miami signed Olynyk, Waiters, Johnson and Ellington to contracts totaling about $158 million, all but Ellington stretched over four years.
The Heat appear to be deep at up front and at the wings. The front court rotation includes center Hassan Whiteside, Johnson, Olynyk and Adebayo. The wings include guards Waiters, Ellington, Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson, and forwards Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder. Goran Dragic remains the lone true point guard.
“Our guys showed faith and said they would be patient and they were,” Riley said. “They sort of rewarded us because we went after them and came to deals very quickly with them.”
While Riley called the pursuit of Hayward a “no brainer,” turning to his own free agents was another easy decision after losing Hayward.
What he didn’t expect was a versatile 7-foot big man like Olynyk to suddenly hit the market. Olynyk was renounced by the Celtics last week to open more cap space.
Riley is impressed with Olynyk’s skill set, citing how he stretches the floor offensively, sets screens, passes and defends. And he believes he is the perfect complement to Whiteside.
“He’s always sort of been an X-factor for the Celtics as they’ve been rebuilding,” Riley said. “Kelly, to me, is sort of the hybrid for all of us. He’ll get in better shape with us and I think his game will emerge.”
Riley said Olynyk was “in pretty good shape” when he weighed in but “he’s not in our kind of shape, but that’s a whole other world.”
Riley was more concerned about losing Waiters than Johnson because of the interest Waiters was drawing.
“I felt good about James because we had met and talked the night of July 1st, but you just never know because somebody can come in the back door on you and offer some kind of crazy deal,” Riley said. “But he loves it here and he wanted to be here.
“But Dion was active and I don’t blame him. He was highly sought after. But as soon as we found out about Gordon, (Waiters) was the first call with James. We got those guys on the phone immediately.”
And Plan B was put into action.