Pat Riley walked into the room to begin his end-of-season availability annoyed, and armed with history.
There have been franchises that have enjoyed prolonged runs of greatness during his 45 years as a player, coach and executive in the NBA — the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Spurs and his Miami Heat among them — and Thursday Riley pointed out each shares a trait.
They all lost sometime.
“I think everybody,” the Heat president said moments after smacking the table to begin the news conference, “needs to get a grip.”
With that, Riley was off and running on a message-sending session that lasted nearly an hour. No players were there, but they surely heard his themes: He saw his team’s mental fatigue during the year, but doesn’t accept it; he isn’t willing to let Miami fall from the ranks of the NBA elite, and the organization will do what it can to keep LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade together.
“We have a tremendous opportunity here for long-term success,” Riley said. “Don’t think we’re not going to get beat again, so just get a grip, everybody. That’s my message. It’s my message to the players, also.”
yIt was one of his many messages.
Riley, who gets a reported $75,000 when hired to deliver motivational speeches, worked in anecdotes on everything from sipping Johnnie Walker Blue to playing James Ingram records to how even at 69 years old he still finds himself dreaming big.
He was speaking with reporters, but clearly talking to players through the cameras.
“You’ve got to stay together, if you’ve got the guts,” Riley said. “You don’t find the first door and run out of it if you have an opportunity. This is four years now into this era, this team. Four finals — it’s only been done three other times before — and two championships. From day one to the end, it was like a Broadway show. It sort of ran out of steam. And we need to retool. We don’t need to rebuild.”
How to retool is the question, but the answer isn’t up to Riley yet.
James, Bosh and Wade all need to decide if they’re going to opt out of their contracts, a choice that was probably going to be complicated even if the Heat hadn’t lost the NBA Finals to San Antonio, ending Miami’s two-year reign as league champions. From those decisions, Heat free-agents-to-be — Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, Chris Andersen and others — may start charting their futures. Players from other teams will listen as well.
Then Riley and the Heat spring into action on July 1, just as they did four years ago when they netted James, Bosh and Wade. Other than Norris Cole, no Heat player currently is locked into a fully guaranteed deal for next season. But Riley doesn’t feel the Heat need to recruit current players again.
“We’re prepared,” Riley said. “We’ve got the main-themed book all written up and it’s dependent on whatever the scenario we’re presented with on July 1. We’ve got a lot of room for flexibility. There’s a tremendous amount of flexibility depending on what happens. So we’re ready.”
He offered plenty of perspective on Thursday, about how he still feels like he choked away what should have been a title for the Lakers team he coached in 1984, but how they roared back with three titles in the next four seasons. He even referenced how San Antonio got much better this season after seeing a title in 2013 get taken away by Miami in dramatic fashion.
“What happened last year with San Antonio? Did they run? They faced it,” Riley said. “They faced it and they came back, and we saw the result. We’ll find out what we’re made of here. It’s not about options. It’s not about free agency. It’s not about anything. It’s about what we have built over four years here.”
Among Riley’s more impassioned defenses was the one of Wade, who was widely criticized for both missing 28 games in the regular season — mainly part of a maintenance program laid out by the team — and for struggling in Games 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals.
“For the last 10 years, this has been a Dwyane Wade-driven thing,” Riley said. “Now does he have to reinvent himself a little bit? Absolutely.”
Riley can only hope that reinvention is in Miami, and that James and Bosh are there as well.
“I’m an Irish guy who believes in big dreams,” Riley said. “I’m optimistic. Until that’s proven different, I just have a level of optimism that there isn’t a better place for players to be than Miami.”