HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Fifty-five minutes of Pat Riley unfiltered is the off-the-court equivalent of watching a Game 7 of The Finals go to triple overtime. You don’t want a miss a second of the action.
The Miami Heat’s boss was in rare form this morning in his postseason news conference, explaining where the Heat stands now after losing in The Finals to the Spurs and where they are headed with the huge decisions looming for the Big 3 of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in advance of free agency this summer, should they choose to opt-out of their current deals and test the waters.
Riley’s message to them all was clear. But he might as well have FaceTimed LeBron or at least hit him on Skype when talked about the need to “stay the course” and not “run for the first open door.”
Wade and Bosh have already expressed publicly their desire to stay in Miami and continue a partnership that has produced four straight trips to The Finals and two title-winning campaigns. LeBron is the only one who has not hinted publicly about which way he is leaning.
Riley mentioned all of the great dynasties of the past and how many if not all of them failed more than they succeeded in their annual quests to win titles. He spoke of how hard the process can be and of the certain trials and tribulations that accompany the triumphs for those teams that stick together in their quest for Larry O’Brien trophies.
“This stuff is hard,” Riley said. “And you’ve got to stay together if you’ve got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”
That’s tougher love than most men in Riley’s position are comfortable using. But most of those men don’t have the experience, backrground or list of accomplishments Riley has. Riley vowed to do whatever it takes to keep his crew together. He pointed to the Spurs and their bond that carried them from a crushing defeat in The Finals last year to a rematch this year and vengeance.
Riley called for mass reinvention, at least for everyone under 69 (his age) and the improvement from within that marked the Spurs’ spectacular run through the regular season and postseason.
As much as Riley and his staff will be challenged with reinventing the roster to LeBron’s liking, Riley challenged LeBron to allow them to do the job and come back ready to forge a new identity for this team — rather than scrambling out the door for a different situation.
Riley compared the Heat’s Big 3 to the Hall-of-Fame core groups of the Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar/James Worthy-led Showtime Lakers, the Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, the Larry Bird/Kevin MacHale/Robert Parish-led Celtics, the Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen-led Bulls and the Tim Duncan/Manu Ginobili/Tony Parker-led Spurs. He insisted the Heat will do whatever it takes to keep their group together.
“However we can keep those guys together,” Riley said, “we’re ready for it. Whatever it takes. That’s our objective. That’s my push to them. All of those guys stayed together and in their worst moments, they allowed management to retool and bring this back together. It doesnt happen often. So let’s bring it back to gether and keep going.”
The four years with James, he said, is just the beginning of what the Heat had in mind. They have every intention of turning that into “eight to 10 years.”
But they need a buy-in from LeBron. And that’s where Riley has to hope his tough-love message resonates with James. Riley knows the face of his franchise, and the league for that matter, relishes a challenge. Riley needs LeBron to internalize this Finals loss the way Duncan did with the Spurs last year. He needs LeBron to be the catalyst for the reinvention he spoke of so often during the nearly hour-long news conference.
In lieu of formal presentations to his own potential free agents, Riley said he’ll opt for a more obvious approach.
“I’m not dropping championship rings on the table for those guys,” he said. “They can drop their own.”
Riley professed his love for all of them, for their contributions and the drive it takes to reach The Finals in four consecutive seasons and the need for a little space right now. He opted for email messages instead of face-to-face meetings after The Finals defeat to the Spurs.
But he cautioned everyone on this “end of the Big 3″ narrative that rose out of The Finals.
“Everybody needs to get a grip,” was his opening line. He also cautioned against the Heat pursuing Carmelo Anthony subplot that gained steam during The Finals, suggesting that it was the same kind of “pipe dream” assembling the Big 3 was back in 2010 … before it actually happened, of course.
As for the Wade-as-a-sixth-man discussion, Riley said that the topic has not been brought up and that he’d need boxing gloves to entertain it with Wade in the same room.
Later he used the South Florida storm weather as a weapon, comparing the tumultuous but temporary threat of a nasty storm to what the Heat must ride out between now and the start of free agency on July 1.
“The storm is going to pass,” he said. “Anybody who lives in Miami knows that storms and rain showers pass and then there could be sunshine. There are broken pieces on the ground and we’ll leave ’em there and walk around them for 10 days. And then we’ll pick ’em up and hope there is no breakage.”
Riley and the Heat have to hope and pray that there has been no breakage in the bond between the franchise and LeBron, if they plan on reinventing themselves in the manner Riley spoke of.