Pat Riley was inducted into the Hall of Fame four years ago for his coaching accomplishments. And he has continued his remarkable career as an executive, using more than 60 percent of his salary cap on three players, banking that they could mesh well enough to win a championship.
Like it or not, Riley followed the rules in putting the together the NBA champion Miami Heat, hacking away at his salary cap as if it were sugar cane, trading and practically giving away players so he could have enough money to squeeze LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh onto his payroll.
Bosh and James had to be recruited to Miami, which was not a tough sell, but Riley’s reputation and persuasive personality made it a cinch.
Riley’s greatest asset may be his ability to adapt. He ran an up-tempo offense with the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s, then a rough-and-rugged, defensive-minded system with the Knicks, a style that forced the NBA to change rules to initiate better offense.
And he used Miami’s locale and his own reputation as a master motivator and championship coach to win the Heat’s first title in six years.
As team president, Riley said, he began plans to build Miami’s big trio four years before the summer of 2010, using the Celtics model.
“We’ve never been a team that wanted to be a lottery team and build through the draft,’’ Riley said two days before Miami’s clinching Game 5 victory over the Thunder. “The first two years we were in the lottery here, we got Caron Butler and we got Dwyane Wade, and then I quit. That was enough for me.
“You can skin a cat a lot of different ways, and in 2006 and 2007 - when we knew that 2010 would be a banner year for free agents - we began to plan to build our team that way, and at the same time keep the team competitive, which we did.
“We got very fortunate that at the right time and at the right place, three players wanted to play together.’’
There is no chance of the 67-year-old Riley returning to coaching, and with Erik Spoelstra having won a title in the second year of this experiment, his job is safe. NBA sources said that Spoelstra was never close to being replaced by Riley in the past two years. Spoelstra has a lot of clout in the organization, and Riley’s endorsement.
Riley freely admits that he will never be able to match the rush and reward of coaching, but at this stage of his career, he doesn’t want to.
“To be out on the court and be a player and be a coach and be in the heat of the battle, real competitive battle where the adrenaline is rushing, it’s a whole ’nother world,’’ he said.
“You get out of the game because sometimes that takes its toll, also, over 30 years. But I don’t have that kind of itch. Building the team, being around the players, working every day with a group of people that I’ve come to know and love in a big way, for me it’s a privilege because it’s worth their time.
“I’m looking to build this thing even better, and I don’t have any timeline. I’ve still got a lot of bite left in my bark. But it’s directed in another direction.’’
James admired Riley from afar during his years in Cleveland and had several conversations with him before signing as a free agent. While James has been the most despised member of the Heat since signing there, he said he doesn’t regret “The Decision,’’ especially because of Riley’s influence.
“For us as a team, he means a lot,’’ James said. “He put together this team, and we just look at his résumé. We look at his experience either as a player, as a coach, or as an executive. He’s done some great things.
“He’s been around great players. He’s been around Hall of Fame players and guys who have won championships, so any insight that he gives you, he’s giving it because of experience.
“He knows all about it. He’s won at the highest level multiple times. It’s great to have him around and just hear those stories about some of the greatest players to ever play this game like Magic[Johnson] and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], and [James] Worthy. It’s amazing.’’
RISKS AND REWARDS
Rethinking the Olympics
As the US prepares for a run at the gold medal in London next month, NBA commissioner David Stern brought up the distinct possibility that it may be the last Olympics for professional players over the age of 23. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban expressed concern about the risk for NBA teams, which could lose franchise players to injury during international play.
Stern is floating the idea of a basketball version of the World Cup, which would include players of all ages. So the 2016 Olympic Team in Brazil could be without Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, and Derrick Rose.
Stern suggested that making all NBA players eligible for the Olympics may be an idea whose time has passed.
“On a personal basis, I think we got a lot out of the Olympics,’’ he said. “We helped grow our coverage of our game. We helped grow the game. The result has been extraordinary.
“We are in 215 countries, whereas we were probably in 80 in 1992, countries and territories. We have 80 international players, and back then we had a handful. And the growth of the game and the appreciation for it has been so great.
“But I think it’s appropriate to step back and take stock of where we’re going. And I do have a great deal of sympathy for those teams whose players grow up in a way that says, ‘I will play under any circumstance for my country, regardless of the injury to me and the threat to my career.’
“I understand that. And maybe those players are put under enormous pressure to play for their homeland, and perhaps an age limitation would remove some of the pressure from them, while nevertheless giving them an opportunity when they’re young to play for their country.’’
The NBA may have more of a stake in a basketball World Cup, with such a competition possibly generating revenue and more international interest in the game.
“I think there might be a better balance than we currently have,’’ Stern said. “All we knew was the model that we knew, but I think it’s appropriate to take a look at it and see what the right way is. And maybe we’ll do nothing.
“This is not just a response to Mark Cuban. In fact, usually when Mark says something, I try to go the other way (smiling). But actually when he is right about something, he may actually be right, and here I think he actually has a point.’’
So it may soon be time to prepare for a US team led by players such as Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, and Austin Rivers.
GUARD IN TRANSITION
Kidd weighs his options
Jason Kidd just finished his 18th NBA season, and his contract with the Mavericks has expired. Having just turned 39, and with his numbers in decline, Kidd said he is not considering retirement, but he understands that his days as a front-line starting point guard are over.
He wants to play another season and is willing to serve as a backup and tutor to a younger guard. Age has robbed Kidd of those All-NBA defensive skills, but he is still able to facilitate an offense.
“It’s wide open,’’ Kidd said of his future. “I would love to go back to Dallas, but we’ll see what other teams come up. Maybe Brooklyn is an option. It’s too early right now to pinpoint what I want to do.’’
Brooklyn, of course, is the new home for the Nets, the franchise Kidd helped take to consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003.
Nets guard Deron Williams is an unrestricted free agent, and he may return with them or sign with his hometown Mavericks. Kidd said he would have no issues being a backup to Williams.
“I think they have an owner that wants to win, and he has the money, but I think being able to go to Brooklyn to compete and see if they can re-sign Deron and get a couple of other pieces, they’re a team that can compete in the East,’’ Kidd said.
Williams, said Kidd, “is the key. Because my days of playing 38 minutes are over, so if it’s a backup role for me to be able to give him time to rest but also coming down the stretch, to be able to play alongside him like that, I think we can play off each other and be successful.’’
Kidd, originally drafted by the Mavericks second overall in 1994, helped lead Dallas to its long-awaited championship last season. He acknowledges an allegiance to the organization and owner Mark Cuban, who was bold enough to sign Kidd to a three-year, $24 million contract at age 36.
“I would love to come back to Dallas,’’ said Kidd, who averaged 6.2 points and 5.5 assists in 28.7 minutes this past season. “I really think that Cuban is going to put the pieces together to get us back, to have that opportunity to play for a championship.
“After winning it, he cleared salary, so he put himself in the position to get two more studs around Dirk [Nowitzki], so hopefully I can be a part of that.’’
Feathering their nests
It has been a whirlwind year for Jeremy Lin. After the former Harvard standout was released by the Rockets, he signed with the Knicks and became a sensation.
Now he can return to the Knicks as a Larry Bird free agent. Arbitrator Kenneth Dam ruled that Lin and teammate Steve Novak, who was also claimed off waivers, can return to the Knicks without salary cap restrictions, meaning they should get considerable raises.
Also, Portland’s J.J. Hickson and the Clippers’ Chauncey Billups, both disposed of by their former teams, can return as Larry Bird free agents. It is a victory for the players, giving those who have been released but made a major impact on other teams the right to earn big raises.
Lin earned $762,000 last season and now could make something in the $5 million range. He has signed on with agent Jim Tanner, who also represents Ray Allen.
“We’re pleased that professor Dam recognized that a player does not forfeit these important rights unless he makes an affirmative decision to sign with a new team as a free agent,’’ said Players Association executive director Billy Hunter in a statement. “Players fought hard for a collective bargaining agreement that allows maximum flexibility for free agent players while also permitting teams to retain their core free agents, and today’s decision affirms both of these important principles.’’
Grunfeld makes his move
The Wizards acquired Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza from New Orleans for the contract of Rashard Lewis last week, giving them two veteran players as general manager Ernie Grunfeld tries to change the culture and surround former No. 1 overall pick John Wall with solid character players. The Wizards were able to rid themselves of the final year of Lewis’s contract but acquired the remaining $43 million on the Okafor and Ariza deals instead of buying out Lewis for $13 million. The Wizards are now at least adequate in the middle with Nene and Okafor, while Ariza is a solid defender who will be playing for his sixth team in nine seasons.
Andy Miller, the agent for Iowa State product Royce White, has shut down White’s predraft workouts, leading to speculation that he has a draft promise. The Celtics, who own the 21st and 22d picks, are interested in White but are not believed to have made the promise. White’s stock has dropped because of reports of an anxiety disorder. Another player who has dropped is Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, because of a potential back issue. Sullinger, who has lost weight from his beefy frame, may actually fall into the Celtics’ hands, which would be to their delight. By the way, the Celtics asked Sullinger who the toughest player he faced in college was, and he told them JaJuan Johnson, who played against Sullinger while at Purdue.
It’s unlikely that Dwyane Wade will play in the Olympics after he finally acknowledged that he has pain in his left knee and will have it examined for possible surgery. Wade’s role likely would not have been large, considering the depth of the Team USA roster. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant will play. Training camp begins July 6 in Las Vegas . . . New Jersey coach and New Orleans native Avery Johnson won the National Association of Black Journalists Pioneer Award at its convention in New Orleans Friday. The ceremony was attended by Hornets coach Monty Williams and Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri . . . A rather touching moment after the Heat’s title win was ESPN analyst Jalen Rose walking into the locker room and hugging Juwan Howard, who became the first “Fab Five’’ member to win an NBA title, in his 18th season. Howard was emotional with his longtime friend, and Rose’s finely tailored suit got drenched in champagne . . . Heat coach Erik Spoelstra still has given no reason as to why Eddy Curry, acquired before the season to boost the team’s frontcourt, was given so little playing time. Curry played in only 14 games, and just once for more than 9 minutes. He spent the entire postseason on the inactive list.