MIAMI — Miami Heat president Pat Riley walked into his annual end-of-season press conference wearing a suit and tie. As he sat down, he made it clear there was certain business he could not get into.
“Can’t talk about a number of things,” Riley cautioned the room of assembled media. “I really don’t wanna talk about all the rumors. We had a great season this year.”
For the next 35 minutes, Riley was asked questions by reporters trying to get around the rules prohibiting team staffers from commenting on other team’s players. Stars like Bradley Beal and Damian Lillard were not brought up by name. Riley filled the space by going long on the Heat’s own players, such as calling Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo “anchors” and waxing poetic about Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem.
Riley made some seemingly conflicting remarks, at one time claiming the Heat are “working on our fifth iteration” of a championship roster but also stating that they “will not take a wrecking ball” to the team.
Here are the most notable things Riley had to say on Tuesday afternoon.
Fifth iteration: Riley used his opening statement to discuss the several “iterations” of the Heat, starting with Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, then Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal (“That was a wild bunch, but it ended up in a title, our first.”), the Big 3 and ending with today’s Jimmy Butler era (“Jimmy said Yes, and this is where we are.”).
“We have a good young core of guys we didn’t have then. We have Bam [Adebayo] and we have Tyler [Herro], who have turned into stars and they’re young. We have a great base with Bam and Tyler. And we have a great superstar with Jimmy Butler. And we have (Erik Spoelstra) who I think is the best coach in the league. So i’m feeling good today, as we go through this next iteration of this team. I don’t wanna go through another pause.
“We are building the fifth iteration of building a championship team,” Riley said. “I have no other plans but to do that.”
On paying the luxury tax: Riley said it’s been a conversation with Heat owner Micky Arison, but added Arison is “committed to doing whatever it takes to fulfill the championship dream. It’s been 10 or 11 years. We’re getting a little anxious. They’re committed to winning championships. We’re in the tax [now].”
Patience: “Running it back, yes” is an option. But “doing something that could help you with that last step, yes, if it’s a possibility or opportunity without setting you back. We are going to show some patience here.”
Riley added that if no big trade is on the table, “subtle moves will be enough. Hitting the home run will be addition by subtraction. I plan on hitting big again. I’m not just swinging for the fences right now because it could be reckless. I feel good about where we are, but I agree with you, we need to improve.
“We’re not going to take a wrecking ball to this thing.”
Riley also mentioned that the team is being more careful with how they deal draft picks, noting that they won’t be used for salary dumps, as was shown at the trade deadline when the declined to attach picks to unload the salaries of Duncan Robinson or Kyle Lowry.
Getting Butler help: “I would like to try to get [Butler] more support. I would love to be able to pick who I want that is the perfect complement to him, but it’s not that easy. I will work towards that.”
Team needs: “Wing size and length and [finding] multiple position players, ball-handling players. You’ve got to be able to shoot the ball.”
Talking up Herro: One of the themes of the press conference was how often Riley talked up Herro, going so far as to call him an “anchor.”
“He gets bigger in the biggest of moments. We’ve seen it time and again, in the bubble and here. We’ve got two anchors in Bam and Tyler. We missed Tyler [when he was injured in the playoffs]. People don’t understand how lethal he is in those moments.”
If you think Riley is playing both sides — adding a big piece to help Butler or running most of the roster back — you’re right. Riley, like us, does not know for certain what will be available in the coming days, weeks or months this offseason.
If the Portland Trail Blazers do make Damian Lillard available, nothing Riley said this afternoon would indicate that the Heat wouldn’t be open to making a deal. But if Lillard or another star doesn’t nudge his way to Miami, Riley has made a strong public statement in support of this group.
I do think we gained some insight into the organization’s thinking. (1) This team is working toward improving the roster enough to be one of the four-or-five best teams in the league, (2) they are willing to pay the tax, and perhaps go beyond the second apron, for the right championship-caliber team and (3) it also values draft picks more highly in past, perhaps because they offer the cheapest way to add young talent — especially important with the punitive roster-building limitations of the second apron.
Trying to glean the Heat’s exact plan from Riley’s press conference won’t amount to much. He leaves things open ended, avoids specifics and quite simply does not know the future. He desperately wants a championship, but isn’t going to do something blindly irresponsible if he doesn’t think the value going out is worth the value coming in.