Miami Heat: Breaking down Pat Riley’s rebuilding plans

Pat Riley watches the action during the NBA All-Star game as part of the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Pat Riley watches the action during the NBA All-Star game as part of the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Pat Riley shared his plan to rebuild the Miami Heat, but is his plan realistic, and is it good enough?

In his conversation with ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, Miami Heat president Pat Riley remarked he’d like to win a title before retiring. In a sit-down interview produced by the team, Riley shared his thoughts on how he plans to do that.

He began by saying “I think our fans are highly educated, they’re fantastic about their team… I’m just as fanatic as our fans when it comes to building this team.” That laid the groundwork for his multi-pronged approach to upgrading the talent on a Heat team that had disappointed this season.

Here are a few quotes and reactions from the conversation:

Quote: It was mentioned that Riley’s approach is to make the playoffs, even when rebuilding, and that it’s important to develop players with playoff experience.

Reaction: Several teams in the league share this same approach. The Toronto Raptors may be the most obvious example. They consistently made the playoffs after DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry developed into All-Stars, allowing general manager Masai Ujiri to be patient with prospects like Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. Of course, he also traded DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, and now the Raptors are one of the favorites to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

But this is the best-case scenario.

If Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow don’t each develop into top-40 players, the Heat will remain what they are–mediocre.

Quote: “People don’t think I believe in draft picks.”

Reaction: That’s because he traded a ton of second rounders in order to get off contracts on the heels of LeBron James leaving in 2014. Maybe that was just the price of the cleanup. Riley’s reputation for not valuing picks is a bit overstated. He traded two firsts in the sign-and-trade for LeBron, allowing the Heat the ability to sign him for an extra year. That backfired, but made sense at the time.

Riley then traded a pair of firsts for Goran Dragic, who was less than a year removed from an All-NBA appearance and played a position Riley had been trying to upgrade for half a decade. No one had a problem with the deal at the time, though he hopes leaving the 2021 pick unprotected doesn’t come back to bite him.

Quote: “They’re so wrong. I will cobble up as many draft picks I can. I’ll keep them in a corner. I’ll try to buy second round picks. I’ll do whatever I can, until I know that those draft choices, either they will develop into star players or into very, very good players, or I can take some assets and some young players and turn them into Alonzo Mourning. Turn them into Shaquille O’Neal.

Reaction: The Heat will more-than-likely be selecting in the lottery. In order to avoid any Stepien Rule consequences, the Heat won’t trade the pick, but they might trade the player they select with the pick. Could Riley cobble together a package centered around the pick and one or two veteran contributors to land a clear talent upgrade?

Also, don’t rule out a Josh Richardson trade. He is Miami’s most valuable asset. Riley didn’t trade Richardson for Jimmy Butler, but he could still kick the tires on what Richardson would return after yet another season of development.

Quote: “We have eight players on this team that are 28 to 20, okay, so we have a good young core. And we know the guys who we really value are young guys like Justise and Josh, and Bam. But, you know, Derrick Jones Jr. is a hell of a player from that standpoint. Dion Waiters is 25 years old, Kelly is 27 years old, Hassan’s 28 years old.

“We have a lot of young players, a lot of young assets who have experience. We’re chasing a playoff spot and we’re young. We’re going to be chasing some players who can come in—one or two players—who can come in with this group, this young group, and I think the sky is the limit for this team for the next couple of years.”

Reaction: Okay, first of all, Waiters is 27 years old and Whiteside is 29. But, if anything, that just shows how neither of them are really part of Miami’s future.

Riley, here, is outlining the immediate plan. He will have the MLE available for about $5 million this summer, and could make a trade to add another contributor.

That’s what I expect to happen: Another consolidation trade–like the Ryan Anderson deal–to add a forward, and then sign a guard to take Dwyane Wade’s minutes. (Patrick Beverley would be a nice fit.)

Quote: “We’ve done this four times now. Had a good group of players, young players, and then either through free agency, or through a trade, brought the superstar in.”

Reaction: Alright, let’s name them.

  1. In 1995, Riley traded Glen Rice, role players and a first round pick to Charlotte for Alonzo Mourning and others.
  2. In 1996, Riley traded Kevin Willis, Bimbo Coles, Billy Owens, Kevin Gamble and Tony Smith in a multi-team deal that brought back Tim Hardaway Jr. and other pieces.
  3. In 2004, Riley traded Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and a first round pick to Los Angeles for Shaquille O’Neal.
  4. Riley cleared the decks for the summer of 2010 in order to pursue LeBron James and Chris Bosh. That involved several trades over the previous few seasons, including trading away valued veteran Shawn Marion and, that summer, a young Michael Beasley.

Quote. “In 2020, we’ll have a lot of room. We’ll also have the possibility to have enough room to go after two max contracts and we’re going to do that. So we’re planning that 2020 will be the room year. We’re very fluid, we’re very on top of it, and we are a destination place.”

Reaction: A few different takeaways… first of all, as it stands, the Heat will have just one max cap slot. They could create another if James Johnson or Kelly Olynyk, both of whom hold a player option, opt out. That seems unlikely. Riley could seek to trade two of the Johnson, Olynyk or Waiters contracts to create the space he’s talking about.

However, who exactly is he targeting?

The 2020 free agent class is underwhelming, but one name does stand out… Anthony Davis.

Davis will be a free agent even after he is traded this summer. Riley has gotten meetings with almost every big name free agent in the past. Maybe he believes he can convince Davis to sign.

Next. Bright future with Richardson, Winslow, and Adebayo. dark

But who comes to South Beach along with him? Jimmy Butler? Kyle Lowry? The better idea would be to go after Davis, then roll over that cap space with the hopes of signing either Bradley Beal or Damian Lillard in 2021. But that’s just me. Maybe Riley wants to go all in sooner.