It was an exceptional day for Pat Riley on July 1, 2016. He was smiling, his face nearly breaking because of it. The reason he was giddy was his prized free agent Hassan Whiteside had just inked a max deal that would pay him $22 million, $23 million this year, $25 million in 2018-19 and a player option of $27 million in 2019-20. Pat Riley exhaled. He accomplished his goal of keeping Whiteside in a Heat uniform even as the cautionary tale of Chris Bosh hung over his head. It was Chris Bosh that Riley signed (overpaid) to a similar max deal in 2014 and a contract Pat Riley had to fight off like a prisoner shakes off his oppressors.
That day in July was the last perfect moment. Since then Riley has had to pivot over and over. Six days after his perfect Hassan Whiteside moment, his star and everything Miami defected to his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Within a two year window, two Hall of Fame players who Riley had in the fold turned their back on the great motivator and leader.
Pat Riley has not been great in convincing free agents from other teams to come to the Heat. He couldn’t convince Gordon Hayward to forget about the Celtics. His best moves this past summer were re-signing solid players Dion Waiters and James Johnson but that hardly pushes the Heat needle forward. Give Riles a “B”.
In the 2018 playoffs, you can see the Heat problems. Of the 16 teams, they are the only team that is missing an elite offensive player, someone you can ride for a 30 point night. It is either defense or nothing.
The Riley signing of 2016, the dude taking up so much money on the cap, is giving the Heat 6 points and 6 rebounds in the playoffs. He has to be off the floor when the game gets fast and downhill and you can see why Whiteside was a second round pick who was cut, played in Europe before returning to the States, an unwanted player until Riles. He’s not explosive and doesn’t have offensive talent. Worse, he has a low motor and he sulks. It’s a bad look in the playoffs. He can’t be on the floor when an athletic team like Philly is going downhill over and over again. The Heat need their fast team out there. Whiteside isn’t it. On the bench, he looks glum.
Riley problem number two is Justise Winslow. Riley loved him for his defense but offense is the name of the NBA playoffs. You have to put the ball in the hole. Winslow is everything the scouts said. Can’t throw a brick in the South Beach ocean but can defend and does exude toughness. But the playoffs are about scoring. He’s shooting 36%. His offensive rating is 97, second worst of the rotational players. His defensive rating of 113 isn’t elite enough to overwhelm his huge can’t make a shot shortcomings.
The closer Winslow is to the basket the better. But that narrow window resembles the small forward game from a long lost era, not the scorers of today. It doesn’t matter how good a defender Winslow is. If he can’t be trusted to put the ball in the hole then he can’t be on the floor the last two minutes.
Winslow is a nice rebounder, especially on the offensive end. He had to show that he was more than a specialist this season. But…he is a specialist.
The Heat aren’t going to beat the Sixers and will probably lose in game 5 in Philly. The Heat aren’t constructed to win in the playoffs because they lack length, athleticism, foot speed and a scoring star. The deck is stacked against them because they overpaid Whiteside. They overpaid Goran Dragic, just like they overpaid Chris Bosh. Their payroll this year was $131 million. Next year, it is $147 million because they are still paying Chris Bosh.
Riley hasn’t been Riley these past few years. He’s made some slip up mistakes. Is this period of ups and downs that faint light flickering in the sunset? Soon you will barely see the glow of where the great Pat Riley used to stand?
It was just eight years ago when Riley was toasted and feted and praised and nearly drawn up on murals as Miami Jesus for clearing cap room and bringing the Big Three of LeBron James and Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade into the Miami orbit. Everyone is gone into their own lane. Ray Allen has written a book. LeBron is still hustling at the NBA Finals thing. Chris Bosh is retired and dreamig of a comeback. Dwyane Wade is at the end or near the end. All will come back for a jeresy retirement. It’s memories now.
Pat Riley is last man standing. He’s been around long enough. He knows. There aren’t enough elite players coming in. Even if the Heat wanted to make a play for Kawhi Leonard if Leonard wants out, who does he have to trade? He hasn’t done a good job of developing players or collecting assets he can move in a trade.
Is Riley going to end his career like this? Phily the new hot thing, Miami mediocre and burdened in salary with a morose max player.
Note to Riles: It’s hard to find superstars. Either you grow them or you steal them from someplace else. All the superstars are taken. And so what last magic act can Riley conjure up?