Pat Riley’s new approach to building Heat: ‘You don’t have have to go whale hunting’

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Last summer, Heat president Pat Riley stated his desire to land a “whale,” seemingly meaning Kevin Durant.

This year, Riley is taking a more modest approach to Miami’s offseason.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

On pursuing whales, Riley said: “I regret ever making that statement. The collective bargaining agreement is going to dictate a lot of things about free agency…. Today it’s a lot different than [2010]. Any great player will have to give great pause to walk away from $65 million to $70 million to walk away.”

“We are going to focus on our guys, really focus on this group of guys. We have found something about three of these guys, I felt they had something but never really had the platform. We will always observe what’s going on in free agency. We have that flexibility. When you have a draft pick and a lot of players on your team you like, you are in good position to move forward.”

“If you are looking at Golden State and Cleveland, those teams and Houston and San Anontio, the top four teams in the league, what happens to the other teams in the Eastern Conference, yes, you have to say to yourself, I want to get there as quickly as I can and contend,” he said.

“Even if you brought all of these guys back with the 14th pick and some kind of room exception, can you beat those teams? You will never know until you get there. I think the fans here appreciate what we do. They also appreciate we want to bring more quicker to the table. I want to play for that [championship]. That’s what we want to compete for. That’s what it has always been about. You don’t have have to go whale hunting. You can acquire key players via trade, instead of laying out $38 million for a guy. Some of these max numbers are ridicluous. That’s the nature of the collective bagraining agreement.”

The Heat emerged as a feel-good story with their incredible second-half turnaround. Role players like Dion Waiters and James Johnson clearly bought into Miami’s culture, and Waiters has already said he wants to re-sign.

And,  yes, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s designated-veteran-player rule will make it more difficult for the Heat to land star free agents.

But if the Heat win their eventual case that Chris Bosh can no longer safely play basketball, they’ll be guaranteed to have his salary removed from the cap only this offseason. This is their opportunity to upgrade the roster.

I’d caution against assuming this group of overachievers will overachieve again. Hassan Whiteside is a foundational piece, and Goran Dragic found his groove later in the season. Justise Winslow will return, too. But that’s not close to a championship core, and locking up Waiters and Johnson isn’t the ticket, either.

If the Heat are content being merely good right now, sure, keep this core together. They compete hard, and chemistry matters. This could be a fine team next year if it returns mostly intact.

But Miami is a market – with championship pedigree, no state income tax, warm weather and quality nightlife – that can dream bigger. This is a place that attracted LeBron James, Dwyane and Chris Bosh and, before that, Shaquille O’Neal (who approved his trade from the Lakers). Will Riley really shift his strategy so significantly?