Pat Riley and South Florida Move Past ‘The Departure’


His exit interview with the media was viewed as a novelty at the time, if not a rallying cry for fans after the Miami Heat got thrashed in the NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs.

“Get a grip,” said Pat Riley, challenging the organization and players to stay the course. To stick together.

But LeBron James, acting independently of Riley and of teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers Friday.

Remember that quote-unquote secret meeting the Big Three had over lunch a few weeks ago? Nothing but a friend’s outing, according to Bosh, who said it was clear James would make the decision separate from his teammates. No master plan.

Riley’s master plan was foiled by ‘The Departure,’ as its being dubbed by Heat fans.

Riley just lost the best player in the world, a devastating blow to any franchise.

However, his statement made it clear that he aims to keep Miami’s team competitive.

"While I am disappointed by LeBron’s decision to leave Miami, no one can fault another person for wanting to return home. The last four years have been an incredible run for South Florida, Heat fans, our organization and for all of the players who were a part of it. LeBron is a fantastic leader, athlete, teammate and person, and we are all sorry to see him go.Over the last 19yrs, since Micky and I teamed together, The Miami Heat has always been a championship organization; we’ve won multiple championships and competed for many others. Micky, Erik and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again."

There would be no tank job like we have seen from other teams facing all-league players depart.

This isn’t New Orleans, it isn’t the Denver Nuggets, it isn’t the Orlando Magic or even Riley’s old team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

This is the Miami Heat.

This is the team that represented the Eastern Conference the last four years in the NBA Finals. A team that has won three of them since 2006.

I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again.

So, on the same Friday that he lost James, Riley got a grip and signed Chris Bosh to a five-year, $118 million dollar maximum contract.

And then came the rest of them.

On Sunday he signed Luol Deng to a two-year, $10 million deal to replace James. He re-signed Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen. Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are expected to re-sign and join Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, Norris Cole and rookie Shabazz Napier.

Those players, together, represent a team sure to compete in the Eastern Conference.

Mar 31, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) reacts after a dunk against the Toronto Raptors in the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 93-83. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra will retool the offense to revolve around Bosh, who will evolve from vulture to raptor on offense. No longer will he be limited to three-pointer kickouts from James in the post, put-back dunks and settling for mid-range jumpers.

Bosh will have a chance to be the alpha dog again. To have the offense run through him, rather than around him. “I think sometimes you miss [being the alpha dog],” Bosh said in an ESPN interview. “But now, I get to see if I have it in me, and not many people are going to believe I have what’s necessary. But that’s what makes it exciting.”

Riley’s san serif promise to win a championship doesn’t come off like Dan Gilbert’s comic sans hissy fit. There was no contempt, only appreciation. No hollow rallying cry, but a confident resolve.

His actions to immediately rebuild the foundation of the Heat have energized the fans, replacing the shock and sadness of The Departure with a chip on the shoulder. Simply put, he helped South Florida get a grip.