Friday , Dec , 28 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Rebuild or Reload: What Should Pat Riley Do with the Miami Heat?


Rebuild or Reload: What Should Pat Riley Do with the Miami Heat?

There’s a lot of knee jerking going on right now. A lot of people look at an Eastern Conference-worst 8-21 record, an aging Shaquille O’Neal and a lack of chemistry and want to immediately destroy the project that brought a championship just two years ago.

I take a much more patient approach.

The Heat need to reload right now, not rebuild.

Yes, young players like Daequan Cook, Chris Quinn and Dorrell Wright look promising for the future. Yes, the state of this team looks grim – with Alonzo Mourning likely retiring, O’Neal looking older by the second and the new guys not being able to work together on either end of the floor. But you only get a set amount of tiny windows in the NBA to build a championship team, and you have to take advantage of it.

I know it’s not the popular belief, but I still think with Shaq, Wade and Riley for two more years after this season, the Heat can continue to put pieces around those two to try to keep championship hopes alive in Miami.

 Here are some of the doubts to that logic:

1. There is very little cap space to bring high-priced players.

There is truth to that. We saw it this offseason when Riles tried to lure the likes of Rashard Lewis and Maurice Williams but simply didn’t have the money to match offer sheets. But Riles has worked some magical deals in the past – like bringing in Zo and Tim Hardaway upon his arrival.

After this year, the Heat – if they don’t make any trades – will have the expiring contracts of Jason Williams and Ricky Davis (as well as several other one-year deals) to finally get under the cap. I know it’s not that much more under the cap because of Shaq and Wade’s big contracts, but Riles is willing to pay a luxury tax – even admitting that they’d be a tax team until Shaq’s and Wade’s contracts expire.

Then there’s the possibility that Shaq restructures his $20 million-a-year deal to free up space. I truly believe he will because of two reasons: (1) Shaq has to be embarrassed with the way he’s playing and the amount of money he makes, and (2) he makes enough money to live forever and he really wants to add to his legacy and win some more.

2. This current roster is horrific.

Yes it is. The Heat are lacking in two very important areas: spot-up shooting and perimeter defense. Yes, they’re more athletic than last year, but all that’s led to is guys running up-and-down the floor trying to create for themselves with no plan for what to do on offense. On defense, it’s even worse. Riley’s system is based on shading, help and knowing your assignment, and guys like Davis, Wright, Quinn and many others have no clue how to run the system.

But there’s hope. Again, Riley has pulled off some magical deals before, and the expiring contract of Williams, along with the potential of Wright, Cook and Quinn (maybe even Udonis Haslem, if the guy they’re going after is a stud) can be very appealing in order to acquire a Ron Artest or Mike Bibby.

3. The team is too far out of it.

I disagree with that. Even after two straight losses to the Cavaliers and the 76ers, the Heat were five games out of the eight spot in the East. Is it too much of a stretch to think a Heat team with Wade and Shaq can’t make up five games in the 53 that remain? Don’t forget, this is a team that won a championship two years ago and even though they were embarrassed by the Bulls last season, Wade and Shaq barely played together at the same time last year – not to mention Riley taking a leave of absence and several other nagging injuries.

Granted, they won’t win a championship this year. The way they’re playing, I’d be surprised if they got past the first round of the playoffs – if they made it. But next year and the year after, the Heat can still make runs.

I know it sounds like a barrage of excuses, but the point is this: the Eastern Conference is wide open (even the Celtics have to prove they can continue this in the playoffs because they’ve never done it before), and although Wade and Shaq need a lot more help than they did two years ago, there are several big-time players who would jump at the opportunity to live in South Beach, work under Riley and play with Wade and Shaq.

Trust me, there will be plenty of time to rebuild in three years. You can’t rebuild a team with your starting center making $20 million a year, anyway. It just doesn’t make any sense. Plus, in 2010, there’s a possibility Shaq, Riley and – God forbid – Wade are all gone. So then what are you stuck with? Cook, Haslem, Quinn and Wright?

No, the Heat need to keep on pushing and take advantage of this window that seems to be getting tighter and tighter.

They need to do what they should’ve done after beating Dallas in 2006: Reload.

Look for Alden’s take on the hottest topic in the NBA every Friday night. Also, check out his blog posts on the Miami Heat at least two times a week at www.mvn.com/nba-heat.