Pat Riley, via Dan Le Betard:
“SADDDDDDD!!!! SO saddddddd! I will never forget the sixth game in Dallas in 2006. DW rebounded the ball, and threw it to the heavens and the Heat universe was perfect for that moment. Our first world championship. Our universe is not perfect today. It will be fraught with anger, judgment, blame instead of THANK YOU!!! Ten years ago. Ten years older. Ten years wiser. Ten years changed. All of us. Dwyane had a choice, and he made it. He went home. Bad, bad summer for us. But there will be another 10 years, and it will be someone or something else in 2026. Move on with no blood or tears. Just thanks. I truly loved Dwyane, but families grow, change and get on with another life. He will always be a part of us. ALWAYS! And no more bruises and enough fighting. Let’s just fly above it if we can and never forget. I feel his pain and pride for what pushed him over the ledge. Been there. Forever, for always, your coach I will be. FOREVER!”
I wrote a long, long piece about Dwyane Wade leaving Miami last night. Just started typing and rambling from the second it broke. As disjointed as it is at points, I think I did a good job of breaking things down. But after this Pat Riley quote I want to get back to it.
Because as weird as it sounds… this Wade move might actually be the biggest NBA thing to happen this season. Yes, yes, Durant technically is the biggest — and I actually have an angle on the Durant-to-Golden State story that I don’t think is being mentioned nearly enough that I’ll get to later today. But Wade leaving Miami… man… I kind of think it’s a more important seismic shift in the frabric of this whole insane NBA universe.
Let’s first put aside Wade actually playing for Chicago this year. Just a bizarre move to cap of a series of bizarre moves form the Bulls this offseason. Makes absolute no sense. They went from “Let’s hand the keys to Jimmy Butler” to “Wait, maybe we should trade Jimmy and rebuild” to “Nevermind, let’s build around Jimmy but also get younger” to “Hey we need a point guard, let’s bring in this mercurial 30-year-old ball-dominant sociopath named Rajon Rondo who’s ruined the last two locker rooms he’s been in so we can start two guards who can’t shoot threes in 2016” to “Hey, look at that, maybe Dwayne Wade wants to come home” to “Hey guys, now we have three perimeter players who can’t shoot three pointers and need the ball in their hands. First round exit here we come!” I just… I don’t get any of it.
But that’s really not that important here. It’s one year. One year and he’ll probably be gone. Which I’ll get to later.
What is important here is that, for all intents and purposes, Pat Riley’s reign as THE top power broker in the NBA is done. After thirty some-odd years, from the Showtime Lakers to the 90’s Knicks, from starting the Miami Mafia to drafting Wade, from stealing Shaw to creating the Lebron-Wade-Bosh Big Three, it’s done. Because with that last move… convincing the best player in the NBA to come play with Dwyane Wade in 2010… he did himself in.
Pat Riley reshaped the entire dynamic of the modern NBA with that move. That move is really what started this Superteam phenomenon, much more so than the Celtics Big Three. Riley showed superstars what kind of sway they could hold with free agency, with contractual loopholes, with shorter deals. He gave them the power to determine their own destinies – all while believing he had created a dynamic in Miami that allowed him to remain in control of those Superstars. And for four years it very much worked in his favor.
All until that press conference happened…
That press conference after the 2014 Finals… where he sat up there for 40 minutes questioning the manhood and commitment of one Lebron James… that was it.
Pat Riley tried to strongarm Lebron. He tried to show him who was still top dog. Only he wasn’t. Because not two months later, Lebron was going home to Cleveland. Lebron saw what kind of power he could have… he saw that he could build his own Miami Mafia in Cleveland, both as the player and the pseudo-GM… and he made his power move. He went home to Cleveland and made Dan Gilbert eat that comic sans letter. He signed a one year deal that gave him the freedom to jump ship. He made the Cavaliers bend at the knee to his every request. He forced the trade for Kevin Love. He forced the trades for Mosgov, Shump, and JR. He forced out a coach he didn’t like. He became the don of the Cleveland Mafia. He outmaneuvered Pat Riley in the exact way Riley showed him he could. He delivered on the court. He won his title. He’s going to sign another one-year deal this week. And now he owns the NBA.
And one week ago, when he took his Banana Boat trip with Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul (sorry Melo, have fun getting Zika in Rio!), he convinced his best friend Dwyane Wade to exercise the same power that he did over Pat Riley.
Riley tried to strongarm Wade the same way he tried to strongarm. He lowballed his contract offer, and then on top of that, he focused more on Durant and Whiteside. He wanted to show Wade who was still in charge.
Lebron heard all of this first hand from Wade. So what did he do? He told him to go home on a one-year (it’s technically 2 years with an opt out) contract. He told him to strongarm Riley. And because of this, Pat Riley walked into his meeting with Kevin Durant in the Hamptons this weekend with no Dwyane Wade at his side, an unknown cap situation, and nothing to show but a young, mercurial center in Hassan Whiteside and Chris “I might never play basketball again” Bosh.
The same Pat Riley who one week ago was “the biggest threat” to steal Kevin Durant and start a new dynasty went in empty handed and watched Durant choose Golden State. Two days later, he watched his franchise legend, the man who was supposed to be a Miami Mafia Member forever, walk right out the door to Chicago. And just like that, it’s all over.
Will Miami compete this year? Possibly. Dragic-Richardson-Winslow-Whiteside is still a top five seed in the East, top three with Bosh. But there’s no more Dwyane Wade. There’s no more superduperstar (mostly in name) to recruit other superduperstars. None of the top tier 2017 free agents are coming to play with Hassan Whiteside. And most importantly, none of them are going to play for Riley after watching him lowball the two most important players in Miami Heat history. NBA players talk – especially the superstars. And none of them are jumping to go to Miami after seeing and hearing what Riley did to Lebron and Wade.
And guess what, there’s no Draft pick to restart with. Two of Miami’s next three first round picks are headed to Phoenix from what now looks like a disastrous trade for Goran Dragic. Dragic is locked in as the team’s point guard on a horrible contract for the next four years. Whiteside, who is by no means a safe bet, is locked in at the max for the next five years. Chris Bosh might never play basketball again. And unless Justice Winslow can transform himself into Kawhi Leonard 2.0, the Heat are going to be sitting at the five seed for the next five seasons in an increasingly strong Eastern Conference. They’re not beating Lebron. They’re not beating Porzingis & Westbrook (FINGERS CROSSED) next year. They’re not beating Boston. Shit, who knows if they can even beat Toronto or Indy going forward. And again… even if I’m wrong about NY, Boston, Toronto, & Indy… they’re still not beating fucking Lebron and the Cleveland Mafia.
Which brings me to the last point… The Cleveland Mafia… The Cleveland Mafia can very well add the rest of the Banana Boat next year.
Shit, they can do it this year. What happens when the Bulls locker room self-destructs this season? What happens when Chicago can see Wade unhappy and know he’s going to leave next summer and GM Lebron comes calling with an offer to get something for Wade at the trade deadline? What happens when the Clippers realize they can’t compete with Golden State or San Antonio and see an opportunity to get something for Chris Paul before he leaves? Melo… well Melo doesn’t want to leave NY. But shit, it’s still on the table with the Banana Boat Crew.
We know they all want to play together at some point… and what’s important is that we now know is that won’t be happening under Riley’s watch in Miami.
Lebron beat Riley. On and, most importantly, off the court. Riley isn’t the Don of the NBA anymore. He’s 71. He’s got no real path to building a team to compete for a title over Cleveland or Golden State — let alone San Antonio, Boston, New York (COME ONNNN RUSSELL), Minnesota, Toronto, Boston, whoever — any time soon.
We just watched the fall of the Miami Mafia the last two years, and convincing Wade to leave last night was Lebron’s Michael Corleone at the Christening moment.
R.I.P. Pat Riley. Shit, you already look like a fucking cadaver anyway.