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).


  1. Pretty raw article... I have to write while watching my daughter and she's sick right now. Overall, I think Riley has been good for the franchise. I'm not going to claim he is the epitome of what I look for in a coach/president, but he is pretty close.

    I appreciate the emphasis that he places on protecting the basket on defense. I appreciate how he is always looking for a dominant big man, because he wants to score more points in the paint. I appreciate that he looks like a mafia boss and always wears Armani suits.

    I actually think he probably learns more about the game every time he takes a step back from the team. It gives him more of a chance to look around and see what is going on around the league and the world.

    Ultimately, I believe that Riley, like Jerry Sloan, Phil Jackson, and Larry Brown can change the outcome of a game. Players are always the ones who win or lose the games, but the coach matters because this is the guy that calls the timeouts and manages the substitutions and calls the plays... on top of being the guy that has to prepare them physically and mentally for that moment when it comes.

    I always go back to that incredible game 3 comeback by Wade and company in the NBA Finals. Riley called a timeout and he did not talk to the team, he just wrote "season" on his white board and had them internalize that. The team came out with major focus and got it done. Wade obviously led the way like we all knew he could and he pulled off the miracle. I don't think SVG or Spo could have set the stage for the guys. I don't want to be mean, but I think SVG would have freaked out and Spo would have asked his assistant for ideas.

    Riley's downside seems to be that he needs his basketball players to have football player mentalities and there are only so many elite basketball players that can buy into gruesome practices and wanting it more than the opposition. I expect UD to be back with the team and hope Alonzo becomes an assistant coach when Riley comes back.

    We got a second round pick for SVG, I would be tickled pink if Spoelstra gets himself a job this off-season and we got compensation for it. I actually think he is a good young coach, but I hate watching coaches getting on the job experience when the seasons are so meaningful (SVG in 2004-05).

    As much as I prefer Riley over the majority of coaches in the league, the sad reality is that the players hardly respect anybody anymore. A lot of NBA stars prefer to have yes men at the head coaching position because they don't want a boss, they want a confidant who knows when to get out of the way.

    Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich are probably the best in the game right now, because they are better teachers. Riley probably butts heads with players too much to get his point across and only players that think of sports as war (Zo, UD, Kellen Winslow Jr.) can get behind that.

  2. Wade on another all-Nba team suck it Josh!