Monday , Dec , 12 , 2005 Christopher Sells

Pat Riley: The Takeover

We’re not fooled, Pat Riley. We know what’s been going on under that slicked-back hair of yours. Since last year, you’ve been waiting for your chance to walk the sidelines as coach of the Miami Heat again. You’ve been standing over Stan Van Gundy’s shoulder, watching his every move, looking for the right moment to take back the very job that you let him have. As Van Gundy’s boss, we know it’s within your job description and rights to fire and hire whenever and whomever you think it necessary. But when has it ever looked good for someone to take the job of the person they’ve fired?

Pat Riley: The Takeover

There were rumblings last summer of you wanting to coach again. You told someone in an interview that you could see yourself coaching again in the future. You said that you’d never step on SVG’s toes to do it though. We should have known better then, shouldn’t we? There were those of us who thought we knew it was coming then, but we never thought you’d go through with it. Not after the Heat went to the Eastern Conference Finals. Not after they were a Dwyane Wade rib injury from taking on the Spurs in basketball’s penultimate series. Not after a half-healthy Shaq still played competently enough to justify his position as the best center in the game. Not after they were a bad Damon Jones decision away from winning their conference and fulfilling prognostications that they’d run rampant through the competition out East. And you knew that it would be far too obvious if you did it then, so you made plans. Then you waited.

One of your former players once said, "If it ain’t broke, don’t break it." The more conventional proverb would be, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." So what did you do? You broke up the team you had, despite its obvious potential, and you brought in unproven commodities. Gone were Eddie Jones and Rasual Butler in a trade. Gone was Damon Jones via free agency. In their places? Jason Williams (the white one), James Posey, Antoine Walker, and Gary Payton. On paper, you knew it sounded like an All-Star team of  sorts. Upon closer inspection, one would discover that Posey is a less experienced version of Eddie, Williams is mostly erratic in his play, Walker never met a shot he didn’t like and he plays the same position as a player you just re-signed to a decent-sized deal, and Payton passed his prime years ago. On top of that, teams generally only take the floor with one ball to share amongst themselves. With the assembled talent, this could prove to not nearly be enough.

So the season began. Shaq turned his ankle in the Heat’s second game of the year. While I can’t prove that you had anything to do with this, I do suspect that his extended rehabilitation schedule may have been your doing. Teammates would argue. Bad shots would be taken. Players would complain about minutes. The losses would pile up. All the while, you twiddled your thumbs and waited for the right time. It would be soon. There was a plan forming that would save face for the franchise and all involved persons.

Finally, the time came. Shaq returned on Sunday. The team would have a day off on Monday and a national television audience on Friday. So Van Gundy "decided" that it was time for him to spend some more time with his family. Very suddenly, actually. He’ll still have a job within the organization, interestingly, although it’s not clear what exactly that will be. You’ve placed the "interim" label before your name, as if to suggest that the team will be looking for someone else to fill the position. Of course, this also leaves you free to find another person if the job proves too much to handle or if things don’t go as you’ve planned. But things will likely go swimmingly. Shaq will work his way back into things and take control of the team again. Trades will likely be made to change the team dynamic and to make things click a little better on court. The team will improve upon its 11-10 start with the comfort of knowing that they have time to work things out and likely still win their division if they don’t. And who’s going to get the credit for the miraculous turnaround? I bet you think you will. Maybe you’re right.

Here’s what I hope happens though. I hope the Heat have to struggle to get into the postseason. I hope that the team flames out in the playoffs. I hope you catch all the blame for these events. I hope that the owner hires someone who doesn’t appear to be scheming behind the scenes. All this is hard for me because I like Shaq now that he’s not a Laker. I want him to get that fourth ring. I want Wade, a guy who’s really good and who will be for years to come, to get his first. I want Alonzo Mourning to go where he couldn’t lead the team in the years preceding his kidney ailment. I just want you to get your due first.

If not, I’ll settle for a sideline accident involving you and some errant hair gel.