Riley to Return to the Bench
Pat Riley is returning to coach the Miami Heat as they attempt to regain their status as one of the Eastern Conference’s elite franchises.
OK, not officially. Or even reportedly. But we all know this is coming, right? Current Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is probably packing up his office as we speak because he knows the writing is on the wall. He’s seen Riley pull this stunt before and the current situation reeks of familiarity and deceit and frontrunning. And hair gel.
Let’s rewind. For anyone who isn’t sure what I’m talking about, take a quick look here. Riley once had a promising young coach who was going to have the opportunity to do some great things with the team. His name was Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy took the reins after Riley had stepped down as coach. The team saw a resurgence under the first time head coach. Then they traded for Shaquille O’Neal and the thought was that the team was on the rise and could contend for a title. So it was only logical that Van Gundy would claim to miss his family and resign from the position. And Riley was the logical candidate to take over the position since he had assembled it as the team’s president. They would go on to win the franchise’s only title.
After that, players retired and were traded. Finals MVP Dwyane Wade was injured. The team struggled. And Riley decided that Spoelstra was the right guy to deal with that as he stepped back into his front office job. A couple of semi-successful seasons later, Spoelstra seems to be doing OK. He’s clearly not on par with some of the more-tenured and more experienced minds roaming the opposing sidelines, but he’s new at this. Give him a chance let him learn. And get him a real team. Wade is leading a group of nobodies to the Playoffs every year.
Heading into this offseason, it looks like Spoelstra might get that opportunity. Despite the shellacking administered to the Heat by the Celtics in the first round, rumors are that Wade plans on sticking around. And there’s enough room under the cap for him to entice another one of this summer’s top-flight free agents to join him. You’d figure that the chance to play alongside a top-five talent in a tropical environment with no state income tax might be enough to lure a Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson to South Beach. But just in case it isn’t, Pat Riley let us know that he has one other trick up his sleeve:
"I’ll do whatever is in the best interest of building the team here. Period. Whatever it takes, OK? I’ll let you fill in the blanks. … If some free agent were to say ‘I will come here but you must do this,’ well, hell, if that happens that day, then I might have to give it some thought."
Yep, it would be that simple. "Spoelstra, get lost. Free Agent X wants me calling the shots and we give the players what they want here. Maybe you can stick around as an assistant if you don’t want to resign. But I hear that resignation business is pretty cool. Stan landed on his feet in Orlando and might win a ring this year. You might be able to get the Philadelphia job. Or the Charlotte job in case Larry Brown takes the Philly job that he said he’s not interested in. Either way, we both win. You get a job and I get another shot at a ring. No hard feelings?"
Lest you think that I’m overreacting and letting my well-documented disdain of some of Riley’s practices influence my thinking, let’s hear from someone who has a fairly intimate knowledge of the coach’s practices and procedures. SVG, take it away:
"I feel bad for Erik. I know what will happen now. That’s an offseason of speculation on whether or not Pat’s going to coach. I think that makes it tough on [Spoelstra], so I feel bad for him."
"I didn’t see it coming," Van Gundy said of Riley’s comments. "I don’t get surprised by too much, either."
You didn’t see it coming? Come on Stan, it’s the same thing that happened to you. And if it’s not the same, it’s darn similar. Too similar to be a coincidence. Which is why I’m saying– months in advance– that Riley will come back if the Heat manage to sign another superstar to play alongside Wade. And since the guy is actually a great coach, they may win a title. It would just be nice if he wasn’t hiring people from within the organization to do the heavy lifting during the times that the on-court product was less than stellar. At least find a stranger to do your dirty work instead of the guys you’ve supposedly built relationships with.
But all’s fair in love and war and basketball, I guess. Riley did tell us he was willing to do whatever it takes. Win by any means necessary.
At least be nice enough to buy your guy Spoelstra some boxes and packing tape.