Wednesday, May 5, 2010
In Pat I Trust
Count me amongst the people who appreciates Pat Riley for better or worse. Like many Heat fans, I was disappointed and confused to see him step down after drafting Dwyane Wade and signing Lamar Odom for a team that already had the third best rookie from the previous season (Caron Butler) and two rock solid veterans. From that point forward, he has given two long time assistants a chance to make a name for themselves in this league... allowing them to coach one of the greatest players of all-time and in Stan Van Gundy's case, two of the greatest of all-time.
For this reason, I really get bent out of shape when people attack my man like that, calling him Pat the Rat and even worse. I was a Heat fan before Riley took over and Glen Rice was my favorite player, but when Riley took over as I believed he would take the team to the next level and he has, with seven division titles and one NBA championship on his Miami Heat resume as coach/GM/President/owner/head MFer in charge.
I can remember when it all went down in 1995 I was thirteen years old and I already had a very highly developed afinity for sports business. I would wake up half an hour early before going to school so I could read the sports page and my absolute favorite was the transactions log where you could see all the small moves that were going on in all sports all the way down to minor league call ups in MLB or practice squad players in the NFL.
Pat Riley coming to the Miami Heat as coach and president was front page news, even the tampering case was front page news (Miami settled with the New York Knicks by giving up a 1996 first round pick that would be used on Walter McCarty and $1 million dollars). What wasn't as highly publicized was that the deal also made him a part owner of the franchise. Even today I am having a hard time substantiating that piece of information, but I thought that giving Riley a stake in the team was the single best move this franchise had ever made and I think that argument could still be made today. When Pat Riley took over in Miami, the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks were the two biggest franchises the Eastern Conference had to offer. They were the teams that ended Riley's first five playoff runs, but have been unable to regain their rightful place amongst the game's elite, with Chicago failing to win 50 games since 1998 and the New York Knicks failing to win 40 games since 2001. Pat Riley's Miami tenure has not been all rainbows and butterflies, but it sure beats droughts like the Boston Celtics suffered between 50+ win seasons (1992-2007).
Miami currently stands at 4 straight seasons failing to reach that plateau. The first two were a direct result of a serious injury to the team's franchise player, Dwyane Wade, and the last two were the result of a rebuilding plan that focused on 2010 free agency. I am as bitter as the next guy about those four post-championship years, but Riley and his team will be relevant again next season.
Make no mistake, the Miami Heat is Pat Riley's team. Stan Van Gundy was given the keys to the car, but it was still Riley's car. Erik Spoelstra was given the keys to the car, but it was still Riley's car. Pat Riley's comments during his end of season press conference about doing "whatever is in the best interest of building the the team here. Period." was yet another reminder that he is calling the shots around here. If he determines that his return to the bench would return this franchise to greatness, he will do that, and that is good news, period.
PS - Pat Riley currently stands as the 3rd all-time winningest coach in NBA history, with Don Nelson 99 wins ahead and counting (slowly) and Lenny Wilkens 112 wins ahead. He now has Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and Phil Jackson within two or three succesful seasons of eclipsing his career total as well. If Riley were to come back for a six year run on a fifty five win average, he would stand atop the mountain with 1540 career victories, shattering Lenny Wilkens' mark of 1332. I don't know about you guys, but I am behind Riley becoming the basketball Don (like Shula, the all-time winningest NFL coach, who also started his championship legacy elsewhere).