Yes, the Miami Heat have some problems.
They have the surging Chicago Bulls ready to pass them for second in the East if the Bulls defeat the Heat Sunday in Miami. They have struggled against the league’s better teams and were embarrassingly lapped by the Spurs a few nights back. They are 14-17 against teams over .500. Their end of game execution has been sad.
Pat Riley is not the answer. Erik Spoelstra is not the problem (or at least the serious one). Spoelstra’s defensive game plan did not say, “don’t close out on Spurs three-point shooters.” Question his end-of-game lineups if you want, but Spoelstra draws up plays that are not simply isolations to close out games.
The Heat’s problem right now are on the players not executing the plans they are given.
Riley has insisted since training camp he is done coaching and will not return to the bench. People around the team have said it would take a direct order from owner Micky Arison, and that is highly unlikely.
The other rumbling is that Riley doesn’t want to return to the bench with this team because he has known what Heat fans are learning the hard way now — this team is not yet ready to win a title. Not this season. It lacks a real inside presence on defense. It has little end-of-game comfort level among its stars. Things that will change over time, especially as Riley tweaks the roster. But right now, with this roster, there are question marks.
Pat Riley cannot just wave his championship-ring covered hand over this squad and solve those problems.
Michael Wallace at ESPN’s Heat Index reminds us that Riley had two very tough seasons on the bench after that 2006 title run. Frustrating seasons where the players tuned him out. One where they won 15 games. Those memories are inside his head next to the Heat title run season and make him question coming back.
Riley the coach would be cathartic to fans, as Wallace notes, but not the answer.
Riley has the professional credentials and personal fearlessness to call LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh out in public. He would get frustrated after a loss, go in to the post-game press conference and name names. He’d call the players out on a lack of effort and execution. He’d be a hard a–.
And it wouldn’t change anything. Right now, this Heat team’s cracks are showing. It does not look ready. And if that is to change it will come from the players, not a change of coaches.