MIAMI — Heat president Pat Riley has built a reputation for building teams through free agency and trades, rather than through the draft.
“To be really honest with you, I’m not a draft pick guy,” Riley said in his post-season press conference on April 30. “You know that.”
Whether it’s trading for Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway, Shaquille O’Neal and Goran Dragic or signing LeBron James and Chris Bosh in free agency, Riley prefers to build around established veterans. While that’s obvious — even Riley admits it — the draft has still been an important part of the Heat’s winning formula.
The Heat drafted the greatest player in franchise history, Dwyane Wade, with the fifth overall pick in 2003 and they have won three NBA championships together since then. Just that pick alone is enough to remind Riley how valuable the draft could be when a team makes the right choice.
“Pat likes veterans,” said Chet Kammerer, the Heat’s vice president of player personnel who leads the organization’s NBA draft scouting team, at the combine last week. “So if he has a chance and can get a veteran guy, he’s going to do it. I think he feels like you can’t just win with a bunch of young guys. You got to have some veteran players. But believe me, he and [general manager] Andy [Elisburg] last year, especially Andy kept saying: ‘Chet, we have to get a good pick this year. It’s really, really important we get a good pick.’”
That’s because last year’s first-round pick is one of the few the Heat have owned in recent years. Miami drafted big man Bam Adebayo with the 14th overall selection.
The Heat currently don’t have a pick in this year’s June 21 draft, with their 2018 first-round selection going to the Suns — the first of two first-round picks owed from the 2015 acquisition of Dragic. Miami doesn’t own both of its picks in a draft until 2022.
“The years we have a pick, to be honest, I think we all feel pressure,” Kammerer said. “We do. Part of it is, I think, we aren’t going to get that many swings up there and we have one.
“If Pat was starting from scratch, I don’t think he would just want draft picks. He would want a combination. He would want free agents and a couple veterans. He thinks you need to have a balance on your roster of young players, a couple veterans and some guys that come in with some experience. So when he says [he’s not a draft pick guy], I think he’s referring to that he doesn’t just want a bunch of just draft picks and think we’re going to be good this year because we have these picks.”
That strategy has worked for the Heat, with 18 playoff appearances in 23 seasons since Riley arrived in Miami prior to the 1995-96 season. The Heat have also won three NBA titles during that span.
But with teams like the Celtics, Sixers and Warriors building talented young cores through the draft, it’s made some question Miami’s knack for trading picks. For the Heat, they insist it’s all about having a balanced roster.
“To me, you have to have some draft picks,” Kammerer said. “Because if you don’t, you can’t have all veterans because of the salaries. So to balance out your cap space, you got to have some guys on rookie scales. Otherwise, it’s too costly to have just veterans. So I think it’s all about balance and I think [Riley] knows that and believes in that.”