Storyline: Heat Front Office

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He also knew that he needed to circle back and connect with James again. The Cavaliers’ charter flight would be leaving soon for Atlanta, and he wanted one more face-to-face meeting. This time, he told James of the trades they were completing — and asked for his blessing to offer Wade the chance to return to Miami. Wade’s role would be minimized in Cleveland, and Altman wanted to afford him the respect of letting him return to his old team. Altman had called Heat GM Andy Elisburg with the Wade idea. He ran it past president Pat Riley. Sure, they told him. We’ll bring him home. Let us know.

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The praise comes from the coach’s box, from the locker rooms, from opponents who have to contend with a relentless, disciplined Miami Heat team every night. There are no days off against Miami, just 48 physical minutes against a team that will do anything to win. “They are always prepared, they always play the right way and they are always defensively disciplined,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “They are really tough.” The questions come from rival front offices, from executives conditioned to believe team-building is binary: Have a superstar and build around him, or tear down the roster until you get one. Yet here is Miami, superstar-less and binge-signing role players who can help the team compete for a playoff spot. “I respect [Heat president] Pat [Riley] and Spo [Heat coach Erik Spoelstra] as much as any guys in the league,” said a rival team executive. “But what is the end game there? How do they make the jump from the middle of the pack to the top again? I just don’t see it.”

Spoelstra understands outside perception. Inside, though, there is only one thing that matters: winning. LeBron James defects? Win. Chris Bosh goes out with a career-ending health issue? Win. Start the season 11-30, as Miami did last season? Don’t tank — win. “It starts with every year that’s the expectation,” Spoelstra told Yahoo Sports. “That’s the hardest thing for people to wrap their minds around. Because there are a lot of years you could step back and say, that’s crazy, we have no chance. But that’s the standard that’s always set. From the first day of free agency to the first day of summer training to the first day of training camp, that’s been the expectation for 23 straight years. From there, we are trying to figure out how to make that a reality.”

The Heat see the value in winning, to building a culture, which is why they didn’t pack it in after last season’s 11-30 start. Miami missed the playoffs, but the winning habits formed during a 30-11 finish get super-glued to young players, lessons only learned through success. “People say the last two years the way we have done it is non-traditional or unconventional,” Spoelstra told Yahoo Sports. “I would say it is more by whatever means necessary is the way Coach Riley looks at it. Because for 23 years he has built championship-contending teams in different ways. Through the draft, through free agency through trade and then this summer, bringing a team back that we felt that we could build with and grow, from a group largely overlooked or outcasts.” Where many see bad contracts, the Heat see flexibility. Yes, Miami has spent its money, but few deals on the Heat’s books are considered untradeable, and the ever-proactive Riley is a bold risk-taker, willing to take chances, willing to bet that a winning culture and a South Beach lifestyle are enough to retain anyone who wears a Miami uniform.

Heat standing pat

Despite standing one player shy of being able to dress the maximum of 13 players on game nights, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Friday there are no plans for a roster move. With forward Okaro White sidelined until at least midseason due to Thursday’s foot surgery, Spoelstra had left the door open for a possible shuffle, with the Heat holding the exclusive NBA right to three players on their developmental-league affiliate, the G League Sioux Falls Skyforce.

A week after Dwyane Wade compared his final season alongside LeBron James and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat to a “bad marriage,” former Heat guard Ray Allen seconded that notion, casting additional question upon the team’s approach to 2013-14. “It certainly was tough on all of us as players,” Allen said of the Heat’s failed bid for a third consecutive championship. “Organizationally, I don’t think they ever adjusted. Most of the guys, having gone to so many Finals, me being an older player, having played a lot of basketball the last five, six years, organizationally and coaching wise they didn’t adjust. We had the oldest team in the NBA, and on top of that, we had such a bad schedule. Every holiday we were away from home. Every situation we were in we were fighting to just stay above board, trying to figure out how to sleep or rest our bodies. We wore down, we were tired, and we were definitely tired at the end. We still were good, and we still made it to the Finals.”

Ray Allen: “With a team as old as we were, and with as much basketball as we’d played, we were still doing a million appearances, we still were having all the practices, and doing all the things that typically wear you down by the end of the year. Just being on your feet so much. The team didn’t learn how to manage our bodies better. When your players have played in June the last three or four years, by this time you have to figure out how get people off their feet. We don’t need to have a practice. We don’t need to have a shootaround. We just have to be mental. From those aspects, you wear yourself down long term.”

Thursday, on an ESPN conference call previewing the network’s coverage of the draft, when asked about the Heat’s scant number of future draft picks because of previous deals, draft analyst Fran Fraschilla warned of not confusing safest pick with best available. “I think at 14, when you’re picking at 14, it’s my feeling that unless you have valued two players almost equally, that you’re best taking the best player possible, regardless of the position,” the former coach at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico said. “Even if they are stacked in the backcourt, let’s say, for example, I just think at 14, it’s not about — to me it’s not about safe or risk. It’s about who you value that you think long-term is going to be the best NBA player.”

But Mourning is confident Riley will find the right combination for the Heat to be back near the top of the conference, regardless of the quality of the free agent class. And one reason is what he is witnessing this off season. “There’s enough out there to make it work,” he said. “It’s enough out there to get us back again. Listen, this team and the pieces that we have, the coaching staff, the culture that we have, the mentality of the guys coming here. … unseen before guys coming in this early this summer.

Here are Riley’s views on different subjects courtesy ESPN’s Arash Markazi’s twitter feed: On what will happen when they are talking about making a trade with each other: “It depends on who calls who first. If I call him first then he ain’t going to say anything. If he calls me first I’m going to say, ‘I know that I can make your team better. .. Let’s have a conversation, let’s forget about the cap ramifications and start talking player personal. … I got a treasure of players. ..’”

On the best way to make a deal: “Here’s what I believe, here’s what I learned from Jerry (West) and everybody that’s been in management is that if you go into any kind of a transaction and try to make a deal with a team it’s got to be fair. When it’s a fair deal and I really think it’s something that is going to help both teams, I will pay a nickel more. My daddy always told me ‘pay a nickel more,’ even though we didn’t have a nickel, ‘pay a nickel more for whatever it is you need.’ And I have an owner (Micky Arison) that will pay more than a nickel more. He’s got about 107 cruise ships out there.”

As assistant general manager Justin Zanik is preparing the franchise for the NBA draft, the Milwaukee Bucks continue to reach out to potential general manager candidates and plan to begin formal interviews on Monday, league sources told The Vertical. The Bucks were granted permission to speak with several more GM candidates late this week, including Portland Trail Blazers assistant GM Bill Branch, Miami Heat assistant GM Adam Simon and Detroit Pistons assistant GM Pat Garrity, league sources told The Vertical.

Speaking on a Yahoo! podcast, Spoelstra was asked by long-time NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski about a potential future in leading a franchise. “Short answer would be, I’m a Pat Riley disciple, and, like I’ve said, he’s always pushed me and nurtured me for the next steps,” Spoelstra said during the interview recorded in Southern California. “So, yes, that I’d love to have that opportunity years down the line from the Arison family, because I believe in them so much as human beings. They’re such good people and family oriented.”

Speaking on a Yahoo! podcast, Spoelstra was asked by long-time NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski about a potential future in leading a franchise. “Short answer would be, I’m a Pat Riley disciple, and, like I’ve said, he’s always pushed me and nurtured me for the next steps,” Spoelstra said during the interview recorded in Southern California. “So, yes, that I’d love to have that opportunity years down the line from the Arison family, because I believe in them so much as human beings. They’re such good people and family oriented.” But Spoelstra, 46, also said that he is comfortable in his current role under owner Micky Arison and Heat CEO Nick Arison, confirming that he already has a seat in all organizational meetings with Riley and General Manager Andy Elisburg.

Would Goran Dragic and Whiteside, two players under contract with Miami for the next three seasons, walk into Riley’s office and talk to him about keeping the core of this team together beyond this season? “First of all, I’m a basketball player,” Dragic said. “I don’t make those kind of decisions. Pat, he knows his job really well. “Of course, we would like to stay together. You always have that doubt in your head – what would happen if we started playing [better] sooner or didn’t have so many injuries. This is part of sports, part of basketball. We’ll see what’s going to happen [this summer].”

Whiteside, meanwhile, said he would like to see what the team could do with Waiters healthy for a full season. Waiters has missed 12 games in a row because of a sprained left ankle and missed another 20 with a groin injury the first half of the season. “Obviously Pat didn’t trade any of us,” Whiteside said. “He wanted to see what this team can do.” “I think how we were in the second half of the season with Dion, we kind of mixed better as a team. We knew each other a lot better and we knew each other’s strengths a lot better. We know we can talk to each other eye to eye and face to face.”

Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau praised the Miami Heat for their “winning culture” and a high “standard of excellence,” saying both have contributed to perhaps the greatest turnaround in league history. “The thing you have to look at, they never really changed,” Thibodeau said before tonight’s game. “Even when they weren’t winning games they were still playing tough and smart and I think when you make the changes that they did. … when you lose a Dwyane Wade and what he meant to this organization and you add a lot of new players, it takes those players time to adjust and once they got it down they just took off.”

Submitting as evidence his own appointment to the Lakers’ coaching job in 1981, or half a lifetime ago, Riley said Magic’s skin color wasn’t the point. At least not the main one. “Welcome to the new seat, whichever seat you just got to sit down in, and to an immediate reaction on both sides of the fence,” he told The Vertical. “With me, it wasn’t as public. There was no internet for it to get picked up on but I heard it within the coaching profession: ‘He didn’t coach in high school, didn’t coach in college, wasn’t prepared. How could he get the most prestigious job in the NBA?’ ” Riley allowed the implicit recognition of the four Showtime championships that followed to marinate for a moment before adding, in a firmer tone: “To adamantly say Earvin is not qualified is nonsense. Like Jerry West, he’s a prodigal son of the Lakers.”

“That’s what happened with the Lakers. Dr. Buss hired West, who established a culture that brought 20 years of winning. West wasn’t afraid to bring in Phil Jackson, but then West left, Phil left, Phil came back, left again, wrote a book criticizing everyone.” In other words, the Lakers began to operate more like the Knicks. When Jerry Buss died in 2013, that left the franchise to the relatively faceless, feeble leadership of his son, Jim. Now Jeanie Buss has won, at least temporarily, an ownership power struggle with her brothers, Jim and Johnny, and she chose Magic. “To me, it’s a no-brainer that Earvin was given that position to capture the attention of the people in L.A. and to try to recapture that sense of continuity,” Riley said.

At his age, with his résumé, Riley could retire and spend the rest of his days steering a cart around a golf course by day and dining out in South Beach by night. He could rest on his collection of championship rings – one as a player, five as a coach and two more as an executive with LeBron – with no everlasting regrets. Well, one. “My biggest disappointment is not being able to win that title in New York, in ’94,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll think about it and it torments me.”

That is what has worked for Riley as the master of his universe in Miami, with the blessing of the owner, Micky Arison. “Since I came here, we’ve had the same owner, same president, two coaches, same support staff. We’ve got a bunch of guys working for us who played for us. Players come and go, great players. When LeBron left, that was the most shocking thing to me – not to say he was right or wrong – and the most shocking thing to the franchise. But our culture is the same. You have your up years and your down years, but what can’t change is the way you do things.”

While Williams didn’t complain publicly about his lack of playing time, the Heat front office knew he wasn’t happy just sitting on the bench. That’s why Williams used social media after he was released to express his appreciation to team president Pat Riley for the way he handled the situation, tweeting “Pat Riley is a man of his word. Ultimate respect.” “It was just mutual respect,” Williams said of his tweet regarding Riley. “I think we were both on the same page. It was never like, ‘I’m on this side of the fence, you’re on this side of the fence.’ I just think it was a mutual parting and I think that’s the best thing about it. He felt where I was coming from and I felt where he was coming from, and I think that was the best thing.”

And even though it didn’t go as he envisioned, Williams insists he didn’t leave Miami with any ill will toward the organization. “There was a lot of talk between Dwyane Wade and Pat Riley and whatever happened in that situation,” Williams said. “I mean I don’t know about anybody else, but I know for sure that Pat Riley is a man of his word. Every single word he told me was the truth and that’s what you need. I don’t think we have enough of that around this [league].”

But in a podcast with The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski this week, Wade admitted that Riley not calling him was the deciding factor. “I did feel at the end of the day it’s Micky Arison’s team but it’s Pat’s show,” Wade told Wojnarowski. “I love Pat and I know he loves me. The fact that we didn’t talk, that hurt. That was my deciding factor when it came down to the end of the day and he didn’t show he wanted me there. I know the Arison family loved me and wanted me there. I know Spo [coach Erik Spoelstra] wanted me there.”

“At the end of the day, I didn’t hear from the guy I needed to. I expressed this to him later. That right there hurt me. It showed me… it was time to remove myself from the situation…. It’s a business. But I’m human as well. I was waiting for him to step up and meet me, call me, do something and it just never happened. That’s not the Pat I know. You can find me quicker than anybody. You want to be wanted. Everyone wants to be wanted. I didn’t feel like I was wanted from the person I wanted to be wanted from…. I was waiting for him to step up and meet me somewhere. Call me. Do something. It just never happened. That’s not Pat. That’s not the Pat I know.”

Wade admitted that he felt the Heat took him for granted. “I don’t accept how they all played out,” he said. “Same way I did certain things, I felt they should have. Same year LeBron [James] left, they signed Chris [Bosh] to a max deal. I’m happy for Chris. OK, it’s my turn. That hurt me. I’ve spoken this to Pat. That really hurt me. That was the first moment where I felt I was taken for granted. I signed a shorter deal.” That deal ended up paying him $15 million in 2014-15, the first year after James left. “Then the next year,… Goran [Dragic] comes in,” Wade said. “They max Goran out. Same thing, one year deal.”

Wade was the latest to insist that he got out of the business of front office suggestions long ago. “When I was a young player in Miami and I was making my way up the ranks, I think they got me involved in certain things,’’ Wade said. “And then it started becoming very uncomfortable. When guys that you’re teammates of and they start talking about trades and all this stuff, and I just said, ‘You know what? Don’t involve me in it.’ “When it comes to obviously calling guys trying to help better your team and all those things, I’ve always been involved in that. But when it comes to decisions that have to be made on players and stuff like that, I don’t get paid to do that.’’

The 6-foot-3 point guard has played some of his best ball in recent weeks, comfortable that Heat President Pat Riley and owner Micky Arison are committed to a turnaround. “That’s why I signed with this team,” he said. “If I didn’t think like that, I would never have signed. I understand it’s part of the business, but I have great confidence in this organization, in Pat, in Micky, in all of those guys, because the history speaks for itself.”

HoopsHype: In an interview on SiriusXM NBA Radio, Antoine Walker had some criticism for Pat Riley and the Heat for the way they handled the Dwyane Wade situation last summer: “I think the situation with Dwyane Wade rubbed a lot of superstars the wrong way, to let Dwyane Wade walk out the door. I think Dwyane Wade played excellent last year. I think he played good enough where he could have deserved a big-time contract. It was a no-brainer. He was healthy pretty much the whole season.”

But Riley said a plan of “succession” is needed: “I think that’s important. I want to make sure that Micky is comfortable with everything before I make that decision. We’ve had a discussion about that. And when you’re 71 years old you have a right to talk about that with you boss. “I’m not going to leave this damn thing until we have the right people running it. I think I could right now and there would still be the right people running it. But I think we’re one person short probably. The one that knows as much as that game out there as he does about this stuff right here.”

If the 71-year-old Riley can’t connect with someone like Whiteside, much less LeBron, does that mean it’s time? Are we looking at Pat Riley’s last stand? Well, if Whiteside bolts and Chris Bosh’s medical situation doesn’t get resolved, we’re looking at another Heat teardown — one that won’t be nearly as easy with Wade, astonishingly, turning 35 next January. That would be the perfect time for Riley to slide out the back door, head to the beach and disappear, Johnny Carson–style, with his nine rings. Of course, he’s still Pat Freaking Riley. Which means we can’t rule out Whiteside’s return, or a Blake Griffin trade, or even a certain 2014 MVP. Everything is in play. Everything.

And Riley, more than the other three, was an opportunist — he never stopped looking for a better situation or another advantage. Riley was blessed with Popovich’s attention to culture and Jackson’s savviness for aligning with special players, but really, the dude has been more Auerbachian than he’d ever admit. We remember Auerbach as an insane competitor who never stopped looking for the next edge. Sound familiar? Once upon a time, Riley despised Auerbach’s Celtics so much that, during one mid-’80s practice at Boston Garden, he asked his trainer to dump the Lakers’ water barrel because he actually feared Auerbach had tried to poison it. But Auerbach is the only other NBA executive in 70 years, dead or alive, who could have pulled off LeBron and Bosh in the summer of 2010. Nobody else had enough foresight or charisma. It’s two people and two people only.

A lover of practical jokes, Gilbert once wanted to dummy up a fake news release that the Cavs were signing Dennis Rodman to a 10-day contract and put it out on April Fools’ Day; he was talked out of that one. After a playoff victory over the Washington Wizards 10 years ago, Gilbert had a remote-controlled fart machine installed under coach Mike Brown’s seat. When Brown went up to the dais for the postgame news conference, Gilbert stood in the back and worked the controls. Brown was flummoxed — although the microphones didn’t pick up the sounds.
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February 24, 2018 | 12:47 pm EST Update
LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer on Saturday said that trading Blake Griffin was “a very difficult decision,” but that considerations about the future, as well as injury and chemistry concerns, necessitated the blockbuster deal with the Detroit Pistons. “[Griffin] is obviously a superstar player,” said Ballmer. “But if you look at what happened injury-wise, if you look at the kind of chemistry we were getting on our team, the thing you can see at the high level with the numbers when I started — one guy got all the assists, one guy got all the points and one guy got all the rebounds. It’s not all quite that way, but I think in the modern NBA, we were seeing it more and more — there’s a greater distribution of responsibility.”
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“We have to add some pieces obviously, but I think we’re building for what I think is the modern NBA, and that trend has only accelerated since we signed Blake last summer.” Ballmer said that as the Clippers owner, he doesn’t believe in the practice commonly regarded as “tanking,” whereby teams strip their rosters of high-level talent and endure losing seasons with a focus on accumulating high draft picks.
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Ballmer said that the Clippers organization deploys analytics in a number of areas, including health and coaching, but that he was most fascinated by the use of data with regard to the management of the NBA’s complex collective bargaining agreement, which governs the salary cap. Ballmer alluded to a trade the Clippers made this past offseason which sent former Clippers point guard Chris Paul to the Rockets for a collection of players. “I find it a very interesting numeric chess game, if you will,” Ballmer said. “There are teams that absolutely do it better, and do it worse. I see [Morey] sitting in the front row. We made a trade: Chris Paul for a number of guys back from Houston. I thought they did something very clever having a whole set of non-guaranteed contracts that really gave them more flexibility in putting the deal together with us than they would’ve had otherwise.”
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The Atlanta Hawks Basketball Club has transferred guard Josh Magette and forward Andrew White III from Atlanta to the Erie BayHawks, the team’s NBA G League affiliate, it was announced today. Both players are on two-way contracts. In 31 games with Erie (29 starts), Magette has compiled 15.2 points, 9.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 34.8 minutes, leading the G League in assists while ranking 15th in steals.
Asked how he appraised his $2 billion bid for the Clippers in 2014 — then a record for an NBA team — Ballmer said he relied on both quantitative analysis and intelligence of the marketplace and the pool of potential buyers. “I looked at what the cash flows would be, and what kind of multiple you’d put on,” Ballmer said. “A team in L.A. is literally beachfront real estate. It’s worth a lot more than teams everywhere else. Because if you ever get a foreign buyer later on — foreign buyers only want to buy in a few cities, which I knew because it was part of the pressure on the price. There was a lurking foreign buyer, if you will, for the team. But ultimately, I knew what the price was in the good old-fashioned way: I knew what the next bidder wanted to pay.”
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February 24, 2018 | 11:03 am EST Update
The All-Star forward became the first player to ever post 45 points, 15 rebounds, five steals and five blocks in a game since the NBA started recording steals and blocks in 1973-74. Davis has been playing at an MVP level since the team lost star center DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury, and it’s given New Orleans the belief that it can remain a contender in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff race. “I looked at the stat sheet when we were walking in and I couldn’t believe he had 45 points,” Gentry said. “That’s not a good thing because, now, I almost feel like I’m taking him for granted.”