When the Miami Heat won their second NBA title in 2013, a thrilling 7 game series against the San Antonio Spurs, Pat Riley had every right to feel greedy and expect a lot more. Why not? Riley successful made it possible for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to run roughshod over the league. He was New York gangsta in his domination of the NBA. He had stars and a supporting cast of veterans who knew their roles and could make open shots as well as defend their position.
But one year after that repeat title, things changed. After being trounced in the Finals by Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs, Riley publicly challenged LeBron James who was a free agent. It didn’t go well. James left for Cleveland and to medicate his wound Riley overpaid Chris Bosh. He watched Bosh’s body during the next two years rebel. The max deal Riley paid him strangled the cap when Bosh couldn’t play.
More bad luck. Riley got suckered into trading for Shabazz Napier in 2014 (LeBron loved him), and drafting Justice Winslow in 2015. Napier had a great NCAA tournament but never played with LeBron and only lasted a year before he was traded. Justise Winslow had a similar bio. Great tournament but he never projected to be anything more than a three and d guy.
Instead of Napier, Riley could have drafted Clint Capela, Bojan Bogdanovic, Nikola Jokic, Spencer Dinwiddie, Jordan Clarkson. The next year he missed on Devin Booker. And Montrezl Harrell. It didn’t end there, the Riley mistakes. He overpaid Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. He mishandled his relationship with Dwyane Wade, causing the Heat star to flee to his hometown of Chicago, a sucker punch to Riles ego.
Riley recovered in 2017 by drafting Bam Adebayo. But his biggest moment was yet to come. Trading Hassan Whiteside, an omission he swung for the fences and missed, and signing Jimmy Butler, has the down years of Riley (which coincided with LeBron leaving) in the history books. The Heat were desperate for a star and they have one. If you have followed Jimmy Butler’s career you will know he has never been this happy.
When Butler was with the Bulls he was hell bent on erasing the last player chosen in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft narrative. In Minnesota, he hated how soft his young teammates were. He fit in with Philly but it wasn’t honey and roses with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Miami was constructed for someone like Jimmy Butler. He is no longer the toughest guy on the court. His teammates willingly play d, accept critique, and have guts. They are alike in the same foundational ways. It’s perfect.
For Riles who has struggled with life after LeBron, he has finally found his groove, perhaps in his last great moment as a front office executive and dictator boss. The Miami Heat are Pat Riley. Everything he was as a player, everything he preached as a coach, everything he idolized as a basketball executive is Heat basketball 2019-20.
He made a lot of mistakes after LeBron left. The first of which was forgetting what that losing life was like. How hard winning in the NBA is. How good players need elite talent if they have any chance at relevancy. Good only gets you so far. Despite the Heat being an A-level organization developing players, they needed a shotmaker and closer and leader. They needed a competitor who could take the game over. Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro matter because the Heat have Jimmy Butler.
Butler has had better shooting seasons. (He’s making 29% of his jump shots and is shooting 33% in the 4th quarter). But his assists are a career high and are indicative of how much he believes in his teammates. He is willing to sacrifice his offense for the greater good.
The Heat are contenders in the East. Yes, they need more size and Butler has to find his shooting stroke. But the Heat are back. And so is Patrick James Riley.