Miami Heat president Pat Riley has no plans of ending his Hall of Fame career any time soon. He made that clear in the midst of his annual end-of-season news conference Monday.
“I’m 77 years old and right now I can do more pushups than you can do right now.” Riley said, while challenging a reporter to a pushup contest. “If you want to go to the mat, let’s go.”
That proud and defiant attitude has been a hallmark of Riley’s almost three decades with the Heat organization. It was also a staple of the latest team, which came just a few seconds away from another Finals appearance before losing to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last week.
“I definitely feel an obligation to finish this build,” Riley said. “And so if we’re three years into this build — then I don’t want to do another three years of just building this team. I think we’re in that window of internal improvement. We got a great, great, great player in Jimmy Butler, we know that.
“We have a lot of real experienced veterans and so we put together a team that got to the Eastern Conference finals and it was bitter, it was a bitter loss. The dragon hasn’t actually left my body yet from that loss. I was stunned, I was frustrated, I was angry, I was all of those things for the last week and now I’m beginning to move on past all of that, so I haven’t given that any thought at all.”
Riley, who won a title as coach of the Heat in 2006 and helped build the roster that won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013, admitted there are still plenty of moments when he sits with members of his staff and is invigorated by trying to get back to the top of the game.
“There are nights that I’m so excited about watching this game and the evolution of the game, and the players,” Riley said. “It’s so different than it was 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 40 years ago when I coached in LA It’s a different game, a different time, and we have to stay one step ahead of the posse, in order to stay one step away from — the street. And that’s what we’re going to continue to try to do.”
Riley made it clear that while he’s always trying to improve his team, he really likes the core of the group that finished with the No. 1 record in the Eastern Conference in the regular season.
“We had an absolutely great year,” Riley said. “It was a tremendous story that was developing — with a lot of stories the endings aren’t very good, but I thought we had a year that we could really be proud of. And doing what we did throughout the course of the season , overcoming a lot of adversity and getting to the last 16 seconds of the Eastern Conference finals is quite a feat so I was proud of the team and I’m proud of the coaches.
“I thought they did an incredible job and sorry that it ended the way that it did.”
When asked about the possibility of adding another difference-maker alongside Heat star Butler, Riley said the team would continue to look at the possibilities, but knows how many factors go into building a championship-caliber roster.
“If there’s one out there, throw ’em to me,” Riley said. “But you can always use more, but it’s got to be a good fit, but not at the cost of doing something that could be prohibitive. So we will look, we will explore, we always do this, it’s part of the business that we chose and whatever the result brings after that season, then you might say we need another this or another that, based on how the league is playing, based on how other teams are playing and matching up with certain teams and stuff like that. that goes into the equation, we’ll talk about it.”
Riley also seems to like the fact that while the Heat’s core of Butler, veteran guard Kyle Lowry and veteran PJ Tucker is older, the team also has a nice mix of young players such as Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Max Strus to even out the roster.
“I like the team that we have,” Riley said. “I like the core, so let’s see where we can go internally and let’s see where we can go if something presents itself. If that’s a viable option. But I’m not really concerned about the age, I’m not, because there’s more geezers in this league playing at the top of their game so you can’t really depend on them — that’s why you got your other guys, I mean you can depend on them, but not the way they were back at 25 years old , but they can still do a lot for you.”
Riley hit on a variety of other topics during his time with the media:
• After Herro said last week that he would like to start next season, Riley said he had no issue with the sentiment but added that Herro would have to “earn” the job in training camp.
“As far as being a starter, come to training camp and win it,” Riley said. “Come to training camp and win it. Sometimes it’s that easy, and sometimes the fit, as [Heat coach Erik Spoelstra] talked about over the last two or three years, it was better for us coming in, balancing the energy of scoring and having somebody that can really control the ball. So if he wants to be a starter, we’ll see in October. That’s something that you earn. And there’s no doubt that he has the qualities to be that.”
Riley said he had seen improvement in Herro’s defense throughout the past season, but added, “He just needs to get stronger again — from a leverage standpoint.”
“I don’t even think he’s here yet, really here yet as a full-time complete player,” Riley said. “And I say that about a player that averaged 20 and averaged 37, 38% from 3. Can score in bunches, can score at the rim, can score on floaters, can score on pull-ups, can score on 3s, he gets out on the break. And he’s 22, he’s 21, 22 years old so the next step for him, and I think we’re seeing this in the league, if you want to win a championship, and you want to be a starter, you really have to become a two-way player today. And you have to improve in certain areas of your game.”
• Riley also made it clear that he wants to see Lowry, 36, come into training camp in better shape next season.
“Kyle had a challenging year for a lot of reasons. I don’t have to get into them, they’re personal, they’re other things, but he had a challenging year with the move and everything earlier in the season he had some injuries, missed some time and then there were some personal issues.The bottom line with me and for me as far as hoping that you can get the most out of a player — is that you got to be in world-class shape. You just have to be.
“That is something as you get older, there’s a point of diminishing returns as you get a little bit older that when you’re younger you can do things in spite of that. I’m not saying when he was younger he wasn’t in the kind of condition that he was in this year, but he definitely is going to have to address that and it will be addressed…. I think he can be in better shape and I do believe that the pain of losing and the reminders that you send out about this might change his mind a little bit, but I do think that he can be in better shape next year.”
• When asked about the emotional verbal back-and-forth between Butler and Spoelstra during a March 23 home loss to the Golden State Warriors, Riley acknowledged that Butler’s intensity reminded him of himself.
“I think there’s a great respect on our team for each other but we got some real, as Bam calls them, dogs, in that locker room,” Riley said. “And when things don’t go well they get to snapping at one another. So it can’t be a regular occurrence, but that happened to happen in public. It’s happened to me before … I’m not poo-pooing that. I didn’t like it. They didn’t like it. Spo didn’t like it. I don’t think anybody liked it.
“But you take a look at what’s going on in the championship series right now. These teams want to win so bad that I think the sparks have just begun to fly. But there will be a winner and it won’t be the one that yells the most or fights the most, it’s going to be the best team.”