It wasn’t long ago that there were stronger-than-rumor rumblings that Miami Heat president Pat Riley was increasingly torn between retirement or practicing the patience it would take to revitalize and retool a team in desperate need of TLC. The post-LeBron/Wade/Bosh era of Heat basketball just wasn’t anywhere near his standards. It seemed like soon enough, Riley would be calling it a career — tired of chasing the next big high and ready to enjoy other things in life.
Riley signed a new five-year contract in 2016 with the explicit understanding that he could work from anywhere with the intention of taking more time off in the future. Back then — just months after Dwyane Wade shockingly left in free agency and Chris Bosh retired due to career-ending blood clots — it was easy to imagine that in 2020, Riley would be far removed from day-to-day operations and on the cusp of full-blown retirement.
It seems clear now that ain’t happening. One would think Riley is quite interested in seeing out the roster he has built, one that enters tonight’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers at 18-6, ranked third-best in the NBA.
After a fantastic 31-10 run to end the 2017 season, Riley broke the bank to lock down a roster of veteran players he seemed to assume would only grow and improve further in 2018. Dion Waiters and James Johnson were signed to big free-agent deals, Hassan Whiteside was given a maximum extension, and other contracts, such as Tyler Johnson, further locked the Heat into what it was: a non-playoff team that had a ceiling of 45 wins and a first-round playoff exit.
For Riley, who was 73 years old at the time, it had to have been tempting to get off the Titanic before it sank even if he was technically the captain. He could have ridden a WaveRunner all the way to his Malibu Beach home with the same legacy he’ll always have, but he didn’t. He stuck around, made some deals to shed regrettable contracts, drafted his ass off, and did what he and his staff have always done better than anyone else in the NBA — found NBA-caliber talent in places other teams overlooked. Now the Heat is a true contender, and Riley has the team not only retooled but also dominating.
The Miami Heat is far and away surprised with this season. Even after Jimmy Butler decided to join the team, no one saw an 18-6 start, including 11-0 at home, on the horizon. But behind the breakout season of rookie Kendrick Nunn, otherworldly shooting from Duncan Robinson, the All-Star caliber progression of Bam Adebayo, and the addition of 19-year-old rookie sharpshooter Tyler Herro, the Heat has possibly the best young core in the NBA.
That bears repeating: The Heat, a mere months after wallowing in salary cap purgatory, handcuffed to old and injured players, now has the best young crop of up-and-coming players in the NBA. It’s been a startling turnaround, and if it’s the last act in Riley’s career, it will go down as one of his best. It’s not only a testament to what Riley does, but to the entire Heat organization.
The Miami Heat is back, and it likely means Pat Riley will stick around for many more years. With a ceiling as high the Heat’s, and with so much room to grow, who would want to leave?