Heat

Pat Riley Can Do More Pushups Than You

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It was a typical Monday afternoon in downtown Miami.

Folks had gone back to work and the traffic was bumper-to-bumper on Biscayne Boulevard. Locals know this is nothing out of the ordinary.

If one looked closely, however, they would find dozens of credentialed NBA Media members filing into the bowels of the FTX arena just past lunchtime. What could be the occasion? The Miami Heat’s season ended seven days ago. Most of the players and coaches had already spoken to the media for the final time and were likely on the first flight to Cancun for some TLC.

Around 1:00 PM eastern time, an older gentleman made his way down Championship Alley before entering the press room. He sat behind the microphone and the glare of his championship ring instantly commanded attention.

It was The Godfather himself. It was Pat Riley.

The Don

Riley, who turned 77 years old in March, has been with the Heat organization since 1995 and his stint has been illustrious, to say the least. In 2006, while serving as head coach, he brought the franchise its first-ever NBA title. He then went on to earn two more rings in 2012 and 2013 while acting as President, a title he still holds to this day.

When asked if he was nearing the end of his career, he was adamant that he wasn’t going anywhere.

“I’m 77 years old and right now I can do more push-ups than you can right now”, Riley joked to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

Those familiar with the Heat organization know that Riley’s end-of-season press conference is nothing out of the ordinary. For the past several years, he’s used this as an opportunity to bring closure to a season, regardless of the outcome.

And that’s exactly what he did. Only this time, Riley did more than simply answer questions for an hour. He challenged his team.

The Herro Challenge: Can He Start?

Arguably the most notable takeaway from the presser was his comments on third-year guard Tyler Herro.

Earlier in the week, Herro had made it clear that he wants to start next season. “Yeah, for sure, I’d like to start. It’s my fourth year. I think I’ve earned it, and we’ll see what happens”, Herro said when asked about the possibility.

While his answer wouldn’t necessarily garner him an A+ teammate chemistry grade on 2K, it’s hard to find fault in his thinking. A little more than a month removed from being named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, Herro posted 21.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists on 56.1% TS. Many would say he’s earned the opportunity to start.

“As far as being a starter, come to training camp and win it.” Those were Riley’s words when asked about Herro entering the starting five.

It’s a powerful mandate coming from a Hall of Fame coach and executive. But he knows what he’s doing.

Herro, who turned 22 years old in January, is due for a rookie max extension this offseason. According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, many rival executives and agents believed his next deal would approach his five-year, $184 million maximum.

Then the playoffs began.

Herro’s play dropped off as the game slowed down and defenses keyed in on him more aggressively. As a result, his numbers plummeted to an abysmal 12.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists 40.9% from the field and 20.9% from three.

At the very least, it’s a bad taste left in the front office’s mouth.

That brings us back to Riley’s comments. As Herro departs for the offseason, he’s been challenged. How he responds will be telling for Miami’s future.

If the reigning Sixth Man of the Year returns to camp hungry with something to prove, Miami becomes more lethal.

If he doesn’t, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

The Lowry Challenge: Can He Stay In Shape?

A second challenge from Riley was directed at future Hall of Fame point guard Kyle Lowry.

According to Riley, conditioning was an issue for the 36-year-old point guard. Miami’s brass is notoriously sticklers about body fat percentage and even has a conditioning test that players must pass prior to participating in training camp.

Just see James Johnson for example.

“He’s definitely gonna have to address that and it will be addressed”, Riley said in an actionable tone.

“I do think that he can be in better shape next year. We’ll address it and we’ll try to help him as best as we can. Because it’s not easy when you get a little bit older.”

Sure, Lowry had some nice moments for the Heat this season. But it’s clear that his body didn’t hold up to the rigorous demand of the NBA schedule. While being 36 years old certainly plays a role, it’s imperative that Lowry preserves his body for the playoffs.

After all, the Heat did fully guarantee Lowry’s $85 million contract and will pay him roughly $30 million as a 37-year-old player.

For what it’s worth, head coach Erik Spoelstra chipped in some faith in his veteran point guard.

“I think Kyle will come back in the next training camp in the best shape of his career”, he said on Lowry during his exit interview.

He went on to add, “He {Lowry} trains hard. He really works at it.”

Despite the challenge, all signs point to Lowry arriving at training camp in better shape. The championship-caliber point guard has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt until further notice.

The Offseason Challenge: Will They Run It Back?

If one thing’s true about Riley, it’s that he prides himself on being a big-game hunter. If he senses his championship window opening in the slightest, he will aggressively go all-in to secure a superstar or a piece that will put them over the top.

That was the case back in 2004 when he traded for Shaquille O’Neal after the team had lost in the conference finals. They won a title two summers later. It was more of the same in 2010 when he impressively brought in both LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Two rings later, he somehow landed Jimmy Butler, despite having zero cap space.

You get the point.

So what is Riley’s outlook on a roster that fell one shot short of reaching the NBA Finals?

“You have to be, I think, very proactive in looking at how you’re going to improve,” Riley said.

Simply put, if there’s a team out there looking to deal, Riley has made it clear that he will be all ears. Which is just the way he’s always been. The last time the Heat’s season ended in the conference finals, they were hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy two seasons later with an entirely different roster and a Hall-of-Fame center.

“You can always think about running it back and being successful, but is that going to be what’s going to lead to a championship? And that’s all you think about.” — Pat Riley

With their three biggest pieces — Butler, Lowry and Bam Adebayo — under contract for the next couple of seasons, it’s hunting time in Miami.

And with Riley at the helm, there’s no telling who will be donning (pun intended) a Heat jersey this fall.

About Alex Burns

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