At 73, Heat’s Pat Riley not thinking retirement: ‘Something sucks you back in’


Heat president Pat Riley said ‘there’s always something that brings you back in,’ when thinking about retirement. (Photo Tom D’Angelo)

MIAMI – Something changed for Pat Riley the last two years.

Perhaps it’s the challenge of rebuilding this team, a process that started two summers ago. Or just the fact that about six weeks after his 73rd birthday that competitive flame still burns.

But after saying two years ago that he’s “had thoughts the last couple of years of moving on,” the Miami Heat president did an about face Monday at his postseason news conference on the same question.

“No, no I haven’t,” he said. “Until (owner Micky Arison) comes to me …  you know, I haven’t.”

Then, and now, Riley spoke about something that always “sucks you back in.”

“I‘ve spoken about this before, because I think this happens all the time to players, coaches, executives,” Riley said Monday. “This is my 50th year (in the NBA). There’s always something that brings you back in, there’s something that sucks you back in. You could tell yourself in September, ‘This is my last year.’ But by the end of the season something happens that sucks you back in. ‘I can’t now. I’ve got to make the team better. We have free agency. I’ve got a draft pick. I can’t do this to Micky. I can’t do this.’”

For Riley, this challenge of making the Heat competitive again in the post Big Three era is as difficult as any he’s had.

Riley appeared energized at his postseason news conference Monday, opening with a long statement about how he has had to build, tear down and rebuild several times since arriving in South Florida in 1995. He cited several major moves from the Alonzo Mourning, Tim Hardaway era to the Eddie Jones, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant era to the Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal era to the Big Three to now.

“But my point in going back to Zo and Tim and that first team is what has got us to where we are here today,” he said. “Because between then and now I can’t think about the number of transactions. … 50, 60 transactions across the board.

“When you think about the 14 teams that didn’t make the playoffs and the ones not going to the second round, there’s 22 teams that didn’t advance. They’re not happy. They’re just like I am. They’re not happy. Getting beat in the first round … they’re having the same conversations we’re having. That’s why this is a wonderful time and open market. I always go back to the very first trade I made here to get Zo. There are more of those out there. I’m not saying they’re going to happen this year.”

That does not sound like a man ready to ride off into the sunset, even though he did say two years ago he has spoken to Arison about an exit plan.

“I would love to have one of those golden consulting jobs somewhere,” he said. “There’s a few guys around the league that have those jobs. But I say that in jest, because all the men who do that I’m sure they provide a good service. But I’m an active participant, and I want to stay that way to the chagrin of some of you and some people in the organization.”

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[Pat Riley said Erik Spoelstra, Hassan Whiteside need an ‘intervention,’ adds ‘I’m going to try to help both of them’]

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Wayne Ellington wants to return to the Heat and they want him back. But it won’t be easy as a salary-cap hurdle looms]

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Jordan Mickey’s Miami Heat debut comes in an unexpected start

Indiana Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis drives to the basket as Miami Heat’s James Johnson (16) and Jordan Mickey (25) defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI – While Jordan Mickey showed flashes during the preseason, the 6-foot-8 forward never stepped onto the court during the Heat’s season-opening loss in Orlando.

Yet there he was, walking onto the floor at AmericanAirlines Arena Saturday for the opening tip of the first home game of the season.

“I was a little surprised,” Mickey said following the 112-108 win over the Pacers, which was his second career start.

“I knew Hassan (Whiteside) was down and I had to be expecting probably a little more playing time, but I wasn’t really caught off guard by the start. I just wanted to be prepared and try to help my team the way I could.”

Mickey was tabbed by coach Erik Spoelstra as a reward for his hustle and defense since joining the Heat. The 23-year-old was signed to a $1.5 million contract in August after being released by the Celtics.

Playing center, Mickey made a nice contribution. He scored the Heat’s first basket of the game, throwing down a put back off a missed shot by Goran Dragic. He finished with eight points, six rebounds and Miami outscored Indiana by six points during his 13½ minutes on the court. The best plus/minus on the team.

“Jordan has been doing enough to impress us,” Spoelstra said. “They were short minutes. … just to get the game going. But those are always important minutes.”

[Can the Heat finish as one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference? Why not.]

[Erik Spoelstra says James Johnson’s ascent to being named Heat captain ‘one most special things’ in his career]

Kelly Olynyk knows more about Mickey’s drive and determination than anybody in the organization. The two were teammates the last two seasons in Boston. … That is when Mickey was in Boston.

During an 18-month period, Mickey made 42 trips to and from Portland, Maine and Boston as the Celtics kept assigning him and recalling him from their developmental league affiliate, the Main Red Claws.

Mickey persevered and never allowed it to dent his will of one day sticking in the NBA. That was realized, at least for now, when he was signed by the Heat and given a guaranteed contract.

Olynyk, also signed by Miami this summer, was asked about Mickey being prepared to play a major role after not playing the previous game.

“He’s always ready, always ready. Brad Stevens prepared him for that, because he did it to him in Boston,” Olynyk said about the Celtics coach. “I think Spo and (Stevens) have something in common, I guess.”

Mickey entered the year with career averages of 1.4 points and 1.1 rebounds in 41 games.

With Whiteside out after suffering a bruised left knee Wednesday, Spoelstra went small with Mickey and 6-8 James Johnson on the front line. But despite his size, Mickey’s shot-blocking and rebounding skills measure up to Whiteside’s.

Mickey was an elite shot blocker and rebounder at LSU. He led the SEC with 9.9 rebounds and led the nation with 3.65 blocks per game in his final season (2014-15), joining Hall of Famer and former Heat center Shaquille O’Neal as the only players in school history to block at least 100 shots in a season.

“You never know how many minutes you’ll play, but when (Spoelstra) talked to me, he was like, ‘Just go out there, play hard, play with energy and give us something,’” Mickey said. “And that’s what I wanted to do, just try to give any effort I could to help my team.”

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30 years of Miami Heat: Ranking the top 30 players in team history

A look at the top players in Heat history.

With the Heat just days away from the start of their 30th NBA season, now is a good time to take a closer look at the players who helped make this organization what it is today. Whether it’s based off of pure talent, off-the-court impact or just longevity, there are a lot of names that helped the Heat over their first 29 seasons of existence.

In celebration of the Heat’s first three decades, we bring you the Palm Beach Post’s top 30 players in team history … Continue reading “30 years of Miami Heat: Ranking the top 30 players in team history”

30 years of Miami Heat: 30 memorable moments from the team’s history

Ray Allen #34 of the Miami Heat makes a game-tying three-pointer over Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter during Game Six of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on June 18, 2013 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Miami Heat will celebrate their 30th season in the NBA this year. Miami entered the league in 1988, and after few rough years, it has been one of the more successful franchises in the NBA, as one of just five teams to win at least three titles over the last 30 years.

In celebration of the Heat’s first three decades we bring you 30 memorable moments in team history:

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Miami Heat celebrate 30th anniversary in NBA: The Palm Beach Post looks back

30 memorable moments from the team’s history

Aboard the Imagination and in the Dynasty lounge, the Pat Riley era begins

The early years and an intern who now deals with multi-million dollar contracts

A look at how a group of South Florida sports fans became Generation Heat

Ranking the top 30 players in team history

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30 years of Miami Heat: Aboard the Imagination and in the Dynasty lounge, the Pat Riley era begins

Micky Arison, Nick Arison and Pat Riley of the Miami Heat celebrates the NBA Championship victory rally at the AmericanAirlines Arena on June 24, 2013. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)


On a sunny South Florida day 22 years ago, Pat Riley was introduced as the Miami Heat’s new coach and president on a cruise ship named Imagination and in a lounge called Dynasty.

How appropriate.

Ok, the Heat’s history may go back further than that, seven years to be exact when the NBA granted Miami one of its four new franchises in 1988 and Lewis Schaffel and Billy Cunningham would launch this new adventure. But to many, even as the Heat begin their 30th season with Wednesday’s 2017-18 season opener in Orlando, the real beginning was that summer of 1995 when, about six months after taking control of the team, Micky Arison, the chairman and CEO of Carnival Corporation, reeled in Riley.

Seven years of mediocrity was about to change.

“Pat’s presence has been the overriding factor in everything in Miami since 1995,” said Ron Rothstein, who has spent 20 years in the organization starting with being named the team’s first head coach.

“He’s made an enormous difference with his persona, his coaching greatness, his ability to organize and have a clear plan and go forward with it. You have to search hard and long to find someone who’s had a run like Pat has had in Miami. He’s in the Hall of Fame for a reason.”

Riley walked onto that stage on the newest ship in Carnival’s fleet knowing this would be different. Different even from his heyday as an A-lister among the glitz and glamour of L.A. — a nine-year run as head coach of the “Showtime” Lakers that ended with four titles and the Lakers becoming the hottest show in Hollywood — and four years amongst the celebrities of Madison Square Garden while leading the Knicks to four playoff appearances, including one trip to the Finals.

He was steering a different ship.

“The setting was cool,” he said about that initial news conference. “I remember the press conference and going up to the captain’s bridge. I remember my talk with the media. It just all felt different for me and I’m sure it felt different for them. I did have a track record that they could go back and say, ‘This guy might know what he’s doing.’

“When I got to Miami I didn’t really care where the team was. It was the vision and image that I had of where I thought I could take the team and the franchise based on the experience I had.”

Until Riley arrived, the Heat were known for a 17-game losing streak before winning their first game and for six losing seasons in their first seven.

To be fair, Miami was the first of the four expansion teams from the 1980s to make the playoffs, grabbing the No. 8 seed in 1992 before being quickly disposed of by Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

Still, everything was about to change.

“They made the playoffs once,” Riley said. “The whole thing, players revolving door, coaches revolving door, the infrastructure was not really up to snuff. As soon as I got the job I went down there and spent a month trying to infrastructure up whatever we could before the start of the season.

“Micky came in with a different approach, a different attitude. Right out of the box he wanted to try and hire who he thought was the best and you paid for it.”

The Heat gave up a conditional first-round pick and $1 million to the Knicks as compensation for letting Riley out of the final year of his contract in one of the most lopsided deals in sports history.

What has followed in Riley’s 22-year tenure as Heat president (including 11 as head coach) is 17 playoffs appearances, five trips to the Finals and three championships.

During that time, only the Bulls, Lakers and Spurs have won at least three titles and only the Lakers and Spurs have been to at least five Finals. The Knicks? They have advanced past the conference semifinals twice, and not since 2000. They have won one playoff series in the past 17 seasons.

“You have stable leadership at the top and that’s where it starts,” Rothstein said. “If you don’t have that I think it’s really hard to be successful.”

Riley went to work immediately upon his arrival. Within two months he acquired one cornerstone to his early years, Alonzo Mourning. Then, 3½ months after bringing in Mourning, Tim Hardaway arrived. Riley had laid the groundwork for the Heat’s first successful run and set the tone for what we would become accustomed to.

The Mourning acquisition may have been the most important in Heat history. It validated Riley’s arrival and instantly made the Heat viable. Riley believes Mourning was looking to join fellow Georgetown alum Patrick Ewing in New York at the time but Ewing, his their agent and Georgetown coach John Thompson convinced Mourning to try to lead his own franchise.

“There’s always a perfect storm,” Riley said.

Riley, though, would have to wait 11 years before the franchise’s first title, one in which the team’s most significant draft pick – Dwyane Wade – combined with another blockbuster trade acquisition – Shaquille O’Neal – to bring the first of three parades down Biscayne Boulevard.

With build-ups, tear-downs, and quick rebuilds now becoming the norm under Riley, the next significant day in Heat history was July 9, 2010, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh officially joined Wade to redefine the term ‘Big Three.’ What followed were four consecutive trips to the Finals and two titles.

But each departed in their own way. James decided to return to Cleveland. Wade wanted to experience playing in his hometown of Chicago. Bosh developed blood clots and has not played in an NBA game in 20 months.

And another era was born, one that Riley, even at 72, will continue to have his fingerprints all over, with help from his handpicked successor on the bench, and possibly someday in the front office, Erik Spoelstra.

“Thing happens,” Riley said trying to explain his success. “I don’t think it’s me, Pat Riley, because none of them knew me. A lot of people who don’t know somebody take a look at somebody’s record. I had a record of 13 years of having really good success and a reputation as a head coach and I think players want to play for that man or that organization.

“In the late 90s that’s what it was about. Players wanted to come to Miami and Micky opened the purse strings and agreed to the contracts. The next thing you knew we had a new arena and here we are in 2017.”

Miami Heat celebrate 30th anniversary in NBA: The Palm Beach Post looks back

30 memorable moments from the team’s history

Aboard the Imagination and in the Dynasty lounge, the Pat Riley era begins

The early years and an intern who now deals with multi-million dollar contracts

A look at how a group of South Florida sports fans became Generation Heat

Ranking the top 30 players in team history

[Want more Heat news sent directly to your Facebook feed? Make sure to like our Heat Facebook page]

Lamar Odom on Heat: ‘If you have talent and you go to Miami, it’s going to be maximized’

Lamar Odom on the Miami Heat: ‘If you don’t go hard, you can’t play there. That’s why I respect their program and their tradition and their style of basketball even to this day.’ (Photo Getty Images)

Lamar Odom played one season with the Miami Heat, but it was a season that shaped the rest of Odom’s career and even how he watches basketball today.

Odom, in an interview with Shams Charania of The Vertical, spoke about his career, including his disappointment over being traded by the Lakers in 2011, and the impact the Heat and president Pat Riley had on his life.

Odom, 37, signed with the Heat in 2003 and after one season was part of the trade with the Lakers in which the Heat acquired Shaquille O’Neal.

Although Odom was happy to return to Los Angeles – he spent his first four years with the Clippers before coming to Miami – he realized he left an organization that is able to bring out the best in their players.

[Oddsmakers not impressed with Miami Heat’s off season]

[Mailbag: What does losing out on Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving say about the Miami Heat?]

Odom told The Vertical he had never worked out before training camp before signing with the Heat and that he “learned how to play hard and what playing hard was,” during his season in Miami.

“There was one game when we played in Puerto Rico against the 76ers, and I shot the ball bad,” Odom said. “But I had a lot of rebounds, had two ‘and-ones’ in crunch time, and I was like, ‘Damn.’ I was down. Pat runs up to me, reads me the stat line, and says, ‘Yeah, O. I like that (expletive). I like how hard you went.’

“In Miami, if you don’t go hard, you can’t play there. That’s why I respect their program and their tradition and their style of basketball even to this day, even though they didn’t make it to the playoffs last year. Because I played there and I understand them, I can still watch them. I know what they’re going through in practice. They’re getting pushed to the limit. So if you have talent and you go to Miami, it’s going to come out and be maximized.

“We had (Dwyane) Wade, Caron (Butler), Eddie Jones, Rasual Butler, Rafer Alston, Brian Grant. We had a good nucleus. We had a gritty team, blue-collar. I took the Heat philosophy for my whole career. When I watch basketball now, I watch it through the eyes of somebody that played for the Heat.”

Odom averaged 17.1 points and 9.7 rebounds during his one season in Miami after signing his six-year, $65 million deal. He and Wade led the Heat to the second round of the playoffs.

But when the Shaq-Kobe Bryant relationship soured Riley swooped in and offered the Lakers anybody on the roster, except Wade.

Odom, Caron Butler and Grant were headed to L.A.

Odom spent seven seasons with the Lakers, where he teamed with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to win two titles. His career, and life, spiraled out of control after leaving the Lakers. Odom has gone public about his issues with drug use which included a life-threatening drug overdose in a Las Vegas brothel in October 2015. Odom suffered multiple strokes, kidney failure and was in a coma and on life support.

He says now he is lucky to be alive.

The Heat also benefited from the Odom trade as Wade and Shaq led Miami to its first title in 2006.

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What should the Heat’s All-Time roster look like? Here’s NBA 2K18’s answer

MIAMI — Have you ever wondered what a Heat roster featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning and Glen Rice in their peaks would look like?

NBA 2K18 is here for you. Visual Concepts, the developer of the NBA 2K series, released the rosters for all 30 All-Time teams that will appear in NBA 2K18 when the video game is released in September. Continue reading “What should the Heat’s All-Time roster look like? Here’s NBA 2K18’s answer”

What you should know about Miami Heat power forward Jordan Mickey? He has something in common with Shaq

New Miami Heat forward Jordan Mickey blocks a shot last season while with the Celtics during a game against the Knicks. (Photo by Getty Images)

The Miami Heat entered the offseason with a need to boost the power forward position.

First came Bam Adebayo, a center-forward, who was taken with the 14th overall selection in the draft. Then free agency helped solidify the spot when James Johnson was re-signed, Kelly Olynyk (another player who can play both positions down low) came over from Boston and Udonis Haslem signed up for a 15th season with the Heat.

The latest addition is Jordan Mickey, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound big man who was with the Celtics the last two seasons but just may need a change of scenery to reach his potential.

Mickey, 23, signed $1.5 million guaranteed contract with a team option for 2018-19 on Sunday, pushing the Heat’s roster to 17 players.

Here are five things you should now about Mickey…

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and Jordan Mickey.

1. The Heat got a player who was thought to have loads of untapped potential after playing two years at LSU but never developed into a regular NBA performer. The Celtics drafted Mickey 33rd overall (third pick of second round) in 2015. He split last two seasons between the Celtics and their developmental league team, the Maine Red Claws. He has appeared in 35 games in the D-League, averaging 18.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.8 blocks in 33.1 minutes. But Mickey has played just 41 NBA games (all with Boston), averaging 4.8 minutes per game. He has averaged 1.4 points, on 41.1 percent shooting, and 1.1 rebounds. In addition, Mickey has played in four playoff games the last two seasons.

2. Mickey knows every bit of the 110-mile stretch between Portland, Maine, and Boston. In his two years as a professional he was assigned to Maine and recalled 42 times, an indication the Celtics were intrigued with his talent but never fully satisfied to keep him on the roster. Finally, on July 14, Mickey became expendable as the Celtics continue to add more young players and was waived. The Heat’s developmental league team is in Sioux Falls, Idaho. Do not rule out Mickey spending time in what is now known as the G-League. Just do not expected the shuttling back and forth to be with the same amount of frequency as it was in Boston.

3. Mickey shares an LSU record with Hall of Famer and former Heat center Shaquille O’Neal. With a 7-2 wingspan he is a natural shot blocker and rebounder, which means he probably can learn a lot from Heat center Hassan Whiteside, who in the last two years led the NBA in rejections and rebounding. Mickey led the nation with 3.64 blocks per game in his final season at LSU, joining O’Neal as the only players in school history to block at least 100 shots in a season. Shaq did it in each of his three seasons in Baton Rouge and Mickey did it in both of his with 106 and 112. Mickey also led the SEC with 9.9 rebounds his final year. He had a 25-point, 20-rebound game at Mississippi State in January 2015, the seventh player in school history with a 20-20 game since 1974.

4. Mickey also has something in common with new teammate, Heat guard Josh Richardson. Mickey and Richardson, who played at Tennessee, were named to the SEC’s All-Defensive team in 2015 while Mickey also was on the All-Conference first team. Mickey and Richardson were joined by defensive player of the year Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky, Damian Jones of Vanderbilt and Marcus Thornton of Georgia.

5. Dennis Rodman played a large part in Mickey’s development as a player. Mickey decided at a young age he was going to make it as a rebounder and started studying the flamboyant Rodman, who led the NBA in rebounding for seven consecutive seasons from 1991-92 to 1997-98. Mickey and his stepfather, James Wright Sr., who played center for Abilene Christian University and was the Lone Star Conference MVP in 1984-85, believed Mickey eventually would grow to a similar in size as the 6-7 Rodman.

[Mailbag: Are Miami Heat still in the Kyrie Irving sweepstakes? We examine that and more]

[First-round pick Bam Adebayo says Miami Heat initiation has been ‘welcoming’]

[Learning curve has started for Miami Heat rookies Derrick Walton Jr., Matt Williams Jr.]

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Former Miami Heat coach Ron Rothstein receives Assistant Coach Lifetime Impact Award

Ron Rothstein, shown here with Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, received the Tex Winter Assistant Coach Lifetime Impact Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

MIAMI – Ron Rothstein never had a problem challenging his head coach, whether it was Pat Riley or Chuck Daly or Mike Fratello or any of the other coaches he worked for during his 22 years as an assistant in the NBA.

In fact, Rothstein, who today received the Tex Winter Assistant Coach Lifetime Impact Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association, believes the best head coaches want lieutenants who will say ‘no,’ every now and then.

“You have to make your head coach comfortable with the fact that he knows you’re there to do whatever it takes that helps him be successful on every level whether it’s knowledge, whether it’s telling him ‘no’ when he wants to hear, ‘yes’, whether it’s loyalty,” Rothstein said.

[Mailbag: Will the Heat have enough salary cap room to keep Josh Richardson next summer?]

[A look at how the Heat found a way to maximize their cap space this summer — and what’s next?]

Rothstein has spent more than 50 years in the game, 26 on an NBA bench and all but four as an assistant. And although he got his start in Atlanta and had stops in Detroit, Cleveland and Indiana, Rothstein forever will be linked to the Heat.

Of his four years as a head coach, three were with the Heat, including the franchise’s first three seasons. He then spent nine seasons on Miami’s bench working for Stan Van Gundy, Riley and Erik Spoelstra. In between, Rothstein was the head coach of the Miami Sol of the WNBA for three seasons.

Rothstein, 74, remains a part of the Heat as TV studio and radio analyst as well as a corporate liaison.

The Tex Winter award honors the achievements and commitment of Winter, who spent 19 seasons (1985-2003) as an assistant with the Bulls and Lakers. Winters was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011 as a contributor.

NBCA president Rick Carlisle recognized Rothstein’s impact on the game. Rothstein worked under Carlisle in 2003-04 in Indiana.

“Ron Rothstein is most deserving of this prestigious recognition,” Carlisle said in a statement. “Over several decades, Ronnie has helped countless players and coaches become their very best while continually helping promote the NBA game.”

Rothstein, who was born in New York and captained the University of Rhode Island basketball team his senior season, went from coaching high school to being an assistant for Fratello’s Atlanta Hawks in 1983. He has worked for two Hall of Fame coaches (Riley and Daly) and two coaches who have won more than 1,000 games (Riley and Fratello).

And each of those coaches gave Rothstein the freedom to speak.

“I don’t think I ever had a problem disagreeing with the guy I worked with because I think he knew where I was coming from and that was all about we’re trying to win,” Rothstein said. “Just because I disagreed or I had a different way I thought we should do it didn’t make me a bad guy. That was probably one of my greatest strengths as an assistant coach.”

As for working for Riley, Rothstein said his strength is being well organized – something, he said, Spoelstra learned from Riley – and his “unique way of pushing buttons, thinking outside the box.”

Like having Shaquille O’Neal walk into the locker room with a wheel barrel full of 15 strong cards before the 2006 playoffs or circling June 20 on the calendar when the Heat trailed Dallas 0-2 in the 2006 Finals and telling his team that was the date they were going to win the title (which they did by winning four straight) or packing one suit and one tie for that trip to Dallas for Game 6 when the Heat led 3-2.

“There weren’t too many guys doing things like that,” Rothstein said.

Rothstein said his three years in Miami and one in Detroit as a head coach were eye opening. And it also prepared him even more when he returned to being an assistant. And his three years with the Sol were so rewarding that if the team had not folded he is not sure if he ever would have returned to the NBA.

“You never know what being a head coach is until you do it,” he said. “Once you do it you understand the 24/7 aspects of the job and the great pressures put on a head coach. That is a tremendous help in you being a really good assistant coach.”

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Heat president Pat Riley has accumulated assets on reasonable contracts. Look out!

Heat president Pat Riley has accumulated enough chips to go all in if an opportunity arises to made a major trade. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

MIAMI – In the summer of 2004 Pat Riley’s chips were all on the table. … Well, all but one.

Looking to land a transcendent player to help put the Miami Heat over the top in their quest for their first title, Riley assembled enough assets to pique the interest of the Los Angeles Lakers.

After giving the Lakers their pick of any combination of players on the roster with the exception of Dwyane Wade, Riley changed the course of Heat history by acquiring Shaquille O’Neal.

Riley had not acquired Brian Grant, Lamar Odom and Caron Butler with the idea of peddling them for the original ‘whale,’ but the opportunity was there. Which brings us to Monday, and Riley’s characterization of his current team.

“This team sort of reminds me of that team,” Riley said about the 2003-04 group. “Just something about it reminds me of that kind of team and that kind of spirit. So I have a good feeling about it.”

The unintended comparison was to what happened in that summer of 2004. Riley had accumulated assets with reasonable contracts and put himself in position to make a franchise-altering trade.

The notion that Riley has lost his fastball because he could not land Gordon Hayward, or even his mind because he spent about $162 million of Micky Arison’s money (with GM Andy Elisburg’s help) on three four-year contracts for James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk is misguided. Riley knew exactly what he was doing after learning Hayward was headed to Boston. He quickly recovered and re-signed his top two free agents (plus retained Wayne Ellington) and added Olynyk.

Three players that at the time were among the top 10-15 free agents still on the board.

Riley said the long-term contracts were by design to “tie up our young guys.” But later he touched on the biggest advantage the Heat have moving forward.

Considering the largest contract of the three is for $60 million (Johnson) that means all three players are signed for an average annual amount of $12.5 million to $15 million.

All reasonable. All valuable pieces if another superstar becomes available.

In a climate in which the salary cap will climb above $100 million next summer and keep climbing and Otto Porter Jr. is averaging $26.5 million, Jrue Holiday $25 million and Tim Hardaway Jr. $18 million – all nice pieces but not super stars – Johnson, Waiters and Olynyk will become more of a bargain as each year passes.

In the last two weeks 15 players have signed deals with a higher per year average than Johnson. And 19 greater than Waiters and Olynyk. To take it further, 57 players averaged more than $15 million last season, 73 more than $12.5.

Do you really think there are 72 players in the NBA who are better than Johnson or 92 players better than Waiters and Olynyk?

Riley said Monday he does not like to define players as assets. But then he did.

“They are assets,” he said. “If something comes along somewhere along the way, there are opportunities to do other things. I don’t have plans to do that, but you need those kinds of assets.”

Then, the man who wrote the book on motivational tools, knew he had found another.

“That will give them something to think about,” he said laughing.

And Riley had no choice. All three Heat free agents were looking for their first big contract and one- or two-year deals did not appeal to them. And if they would have, the annual salary would have been much higher (Waiters reportedly turned down $17 million for one year from the Lakers) making it impossible to sign all three under the cap.

O’Neal becoming available in the summer of 2005 was totally unexpected. One year ago nobody would have thought Indiana would trade Paul George but the Pacers unloaded the four-time All-Star to Oklahoma City for an unimpressive package of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

And last summer the trade winds around Jimmy Butler started blowing, another player who two years ago no one expected would be moved. The Bulls finally pulled the trigger on a Butler deal to Minnesota last month.

Now, with his chips back on the table, do not doubt that Pat Riley would be all in if another star hits the market.

[Mailbag: Will the Heat have enough salary cap room to keep Josh Richardson next summer?]

[What will be James Johnson’s first purchase after signing his new contract? Gym equipment for his home]

[Mailbag: With free agency winding down, where do Miami Heat rank in the East?]

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