Pat Riley on Miami Heat rebuild: It’s ‘going to be fast’

Dec 7, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; The Miami Heat bench shown during the game against the Atlanta Hawks as they played with only nine players during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Heat 103-95. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 7, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; The Miami Heat bench shown during the game against the Atlanta Hawks as they played with only nine players during the second half at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Heat 103-95. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Miami Heat team president Pat Riley joined morning radio show host Joe Rose, and made interesting comments on the team’s rebuild, and where they currently stand with the roster. 

The Miami Heat suffered their third loss in a row on Tuesday night, falling 136-130 in a double overtime “thriller” against the Orlando Magic. I use, “thriller” sarcastically because it was yet another game in which the Heat failed to close out what should have been a win. And it’s a trend that’s starting to wear the fanbase’s patience thin.

Miami led by five points with 48 seconds remaining. Then, Josh Richardson missed a pivotal free throw. Justise Winslow forgot to box his man out. And Orlando’s Serge Ibaka made a flip shot that even he would admit was fortunate, at best. The Heat couldn’t do much in either overtime period, and they suffered a record-setting loss in the process.

Miami is now 9-20 on the season.

It would be crazy to insinuate that team president Pat Riley is feeling any sort of heat (no pun intended, I swear). So it was surprising that he felt the need to join Miami morning radio show host Joe Rose, to talk about where the Heat franchise currently finds itself.

Some of the things he said were quite interesting. For a full recap, you can check out this piece by the Miami Herald’s Manny Navarro.

Here are just some of the most intriguing parts of Riley’s commentary.

On the team’s nucleus

With just about two months remaining until the NBA Trade Deadline, we are entering an entertaining part of the season. It seems that every day, new trade rumors are sprouting. And because the Heat are struggling, a lot of these rumors are concerning them, and what they will do with their roster.

Most are expecting Miami to make a move. And Riley wasn’t so quick to dispel that notion, even when giving his thoughts on the team’s core:

"“We’re in a rebuild with young players that we’re familiar with and we have five or six guys that we really like. They will form a nucleus, two or three them. Tyler Johnson got 32 points coming off the bench and Hassan [Whiteside] had 32 [points] and 15 [rebounds in Tuesday’s double overtime loss to Orlando]. We have some very good young players. Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson, they have been thwarted by their injuries. Justise missed [16] games [with a wrist injury]. Josh missed seven weeks with an MCL [sprain]. So, they’re a little bit behind. But we love our young core. And what we have is flexibility. And you need flexibility in this league to be able to move quickly. You can’t get paralyzed by the cap or not being able to make room and being able to trade players.”"

Despite mentioning basically every young player on the roster and how much he likes them, Riley closes by saying that you can’t be afraid to trade players in this league.

It’s more likely that he was referring to moving pieces that aren’t part of the team’s future plans. Guys like Luke Babbitt, Derrick Williams, and Josh McRoberts are a whole lot more likely to get traded than a Winslow, or a Richardson.

But what if the right proposal comes around, and the Heat can land someone like DeMarcus Cousins, or John Wall? Would Riley balk at the offer, if it demanded Tyler Johnson, or Hassan Whiteside in return?

I doubt it. I mean, he hasn’t hesitated to move young pieces for an established star before. And now, at 71 years old, he most certainly doesn’t have the patience to stick around for a long rebuild. Which takes us to our next topic.

Length of the rebuilding process

Though it’s still a hotly debated topic whether the team is actually trying to win games this season or not, it’s clear that they’re in the middle of a rebuild. It’s not fun, especially considering that the Heat were one win away from the conference finals last year. And playing for championships just three seasons ago.

Regardless, as much as it hurts to admit, actual game results don’t matter right now. What matters is that we see improvement from the aforementioned nucleus of the team. The question that many Heat fans want answered, myself included, is: how long is this going to take?

The Heat own their first round pick in 2017. However, their 2018 first round pick is promised to the Phoenix Suns. That is, unless the Heat finish with a top-7 selection, which would mean another year of losing. Could the tanking continue past this season?

Riley had this to say on the matter:

"“We have a first round pick this year. So we’re dealing with it. We’re dealing with that word that you hate to use – that we have to rebuild. But we will rebuild quick. I’m not going to hang around here for three or four years selling this kind of song to people in Miami. We have great, great fans. They’ve been used to something great over the last 10 years and so right now we’re taking a hit. I think we can turn this thing around. As I said, if five of those [close] losses were turned into wins we could be in the playoffs right now. But they didn’t. You can use that word rebuild. But we’re going to do it fast.”"

Those words do provide some comfort. No one enjoys losing, tanking, rebuilding, or whatever else you want to call it, even if it is the right move for the future of the franchise. Riley appears to be as impatient as the rest of us, so hopefully we can get all of this over with as quickly as possible.

On Winslow’s sophmore struggles

Though it’s not really his fault, it’s fair to say that Winslow has been a pretty big disappointment this season.

He’s averaging a respectable 11 points, four rebounds and three assists per game, but his efficiency is extremely poor. And statistically, his defense may have taken a step back as well.

Here’s what the Heat’s president had to say about him:

"“He’s a Udonis Haslem type of player,” Riley said of Winslow. “He’s a 6-7 1/2, three position player. He can guard maybe four positions on the court. He’s a defender right now from that standpoint. He’s a rebounder. He makes winning plays, has a winning attitude. Right now, he’s shooting the basketball. He’s going to have to find his game, find his stroke and he will. I don’t think there’s any doubt that will come with his game. If people are concerned about him, they should be concerned in a positive way because he’s only 20 years old. We love Justise. It’s just a matter of time. That’s all it is.”"

He did go on to say that Winslow’s wrist injury set him back some, and that he would have to learn how to properly fall (like Dwyane Wade did) to avoid problems going forward.

How Whiteside’s play has fared in his first season after the huge contract extension

Riley also went on to talk about the oft-maligned Whiteside, and how his first season being, “the guy,” has gone:

"“He’s a double-double machine,” Riley said. “There’s no doubt. And there’s going to be nights with the triple doubles when you add in the blocked shots. He’s averaging 18 and 19 a game, leading the league in rebounding, shoots 58 percent. I do think that right now Coach Spo is going through the dilemma that I had to go through when you make changes from an offensive philosophy and defensive philosophy to fit your personnel. Trying to find ways to get him the ball where he’s not encumbered with a lot of defenders in his face is not that easy in today’s game. So, he’s caught in between learning the pick-and-roll game, the straight up post game.”"

Whiteside has been a statistical monster this season, averaging 18 points and 15 rebounds a night. But, like Riley said, there are nights where he really struggles against other teams’ defensive schemes. It would be huge for his development if he and coach Erik Spoelstra could come up with a more functional game plan on those nights, which could get him easier looks to score.

There are also the plays in which Whiteside has his mind made up before anything has even unfolded. When, no matter what, he is completely dead-set on shooting. Those plays usually end up looking a lot like this:

So although he’s putting up huge numbers, Riley thinks Whiteside has room to grow. And that much is evident to anyone that watches the team on a nightly basis.

Riley did go on to mention that Whiteside is a “unique and special” talent, and that the Heat have another 50 games to help him elevate his play. That leads me to believe that he isn’t as available for a potential trade as perhaps one of his other teammates is.

Finally, did Riley forget to mention anyone?

Despite speaking for almost twenty minutes to Rose and his crew, I found it a little shocking that Riley mentioned Miami’s starting point guard just once the entire time. And it was in the middle of answering a different question entirely.

"“Within 18 months it’s all been piled on his shoulders, Josh Richardson’s shoulders, Tyler Johnson’s shoulders and Hassan’s shoulders. I mean Goran is playing great for us. So, we love Justise. It’s just a matter of time.”"

Goran Dragic leads the team in scoring and assists. And yet, he still barely gets discussed even despite the lengthiness of the interview.

Coincidentally, he’s also the player who most frequently comes up in trade rumors. So if we put two and two together, could this mean Riley doesn’t see Dragic as part of the team’s plans going forward?

I don’t have that answer. But we will probably find out once it gets closer to that February 23rd trade deadline.

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