Pat Riley

Southeast Notes: Hornets, Jordan, Heat, Wizards

After the final two episodes of The Last Dance aired on Sunday, Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer writes that the second act of Michael Jordan‘s life in basketball has been “the polar opposite” of the first. While ESPN’s 10-part documentary series accurately portrayed Jordan as a wildly successful player on the court, he has been largely unsuccessful as a team owner since gaining control of the Hornets.

As Fowler acknowledges, a team owner doesn’t have nearly the same impact on night-to-night results as a star player would, but Jordan has been heavily involved in the Hornets’ personnel decisions. Since Jordan took over as the organization’s majority owner, Charlotte has just three winning seasons and hasn’t advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Fowler wonders if Jordan has any more appreciation for former Bulls GM Jerry Krause than he did during his playing days, since the current Hornets owner could have used his own version of Krause since arriving in Charlotte.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • There are teams in the NBA that wouldn’t be significantly affected if the NBA’s cap projection for 2020/21 (and potentially 2021/22) dips by a few million dollars. However, the Heat would feel the impact of such a change. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald examines how the NBA’s new financial reality could alter the club’s approach to free agency in 2020 and 2021.
  • Two sources close to Heat players praised the way the franchise has been handling the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Team president Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra have both remained in constant contact with players and have advised them to put their health and families’ health first, Jackson writes. “Guys consistently have been getting attended to,” one source told The Herald.
  • Due to a positive trend in COVID-19 cases in D.C., Washington’s stay-at-home order may no longer extend through at least June 8, as previously anticipated. That could be good news for the Wizards, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington, who notes that the team is still waiting for government clearance to reopen its practice facility.

Pat Riley: Heat Are “Close” To Being Title Contenders

Heat president Pat Riley is delighted with the progress his team made this season and believes the organization is “close” to being at a championship level again, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. Riley made the comments in a video released today, saying he hopes the league will find a way to salvage the playoffs so he can see the results of moves the team made at the trade deadline.

“I think we were (41-24) or something along those lines and headed to home-court advantage in the playoffs. It was a great year,” Riley said. “I’m really disappointed that we haven’t seen the finish, especially after we made the trade when we brought in Andre Iguodala, Solomon Hill and Jae Crowder. I thought that was going to give us a little bit of an edge going into the playoffs.”

Riley pinpointed the addition of Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade last summer for creating a lot of optimism for the new season. Another boost came from unexpected production by rookie guards Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, along with second-year forward Duncan Robinson.

“I’m so happy that we turned a lot of things around and we found the right players,” Riley said, “the right mix of pick-and-roll players, guys that can post up and really found a couple of guys that can shoot the ball — really shoot the ball — so we’re happy for that and we’re really optimistic about moving forward into the future with these players.”

Riley touched on a few more topics during the video:

  • The Heat are running through scenarios for free agency, but everything is “up in the air” because of uncertainty over whether the season will resume. Miami has several important decisions to make, with new acquisitions Crowder and Hill both headed for free agency, along with Goran Dragic, Meyers Leonard, Derrick Jones Jr. and Udonis Haslem. In addition, Kelly Olynyk has a $13.2MM player option. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald suggests Riley’s comments are a sign that he will try to keep the team together instead of renouncing the free agents and operating under the salary cap (Twitter link).
  • There’s strong support around the league for finding a way to complete the season, Riley added. He said all 30 teams have been participating in conference calls with the commissioner’s office and players union to discuss strategies. “I think that’s a very important thing for all of the franchises, complete the season even if it moves on later,” Riley said. “I think we’re all right behind Adam Silver and him waiting until he launches us back into action.”
  • Riley was “stunned” when he learned that the season was being suspended in the wake of a positive coronavirus test by Jazz center Rudy Gobert, but ultimately believes it was the right decision. “We heard that a player from the Utah Jazz had tested positive,” Riley said. “But I didn’t think it was going to last that long or turn out to be what it is today for not only the Heat, but for everybody to have to shut it down. Shut the country down, shut the world down and try to fight this thing. So it was pretty innocent that night only from the standpoint that, ‘OK, we can take care of this and then we’ll be back.’ But I think Adam Silver made an incredible move, and that just sort of cascaded into a lot of other decisions by other teams and other sports and industries.”

Andre Iguodala Still Elite In Riley’s Mind

Heat president Pat Riley isn’t worried about Andre Iguodala‘s age or the fact the veteran forward hasn’t played this season, as he told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald and other reporters. In fact, Riley took a different spin on Iguodala sitting out while waiting for the Grizzlies to trade him to a contender. Miami acquired Iguodala from Memphis in a deadline deal.

“He’s an elite defender, an elite team defender; an elite assist-to-turnover percentage. You don’t lose that in seven months,” Riley said. “Probably a blessing in disguise he didn’t play in seven months. He’s in shape. He’s definitely going to have to get his basketball legs under him. As long as he’s healthy he can play.”

Riley also touched on a number of other subjects:

  • He was unwilling to give Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari a guaranteed 2021/22 contract extension, which prevented a trade for the OKC forward. That supports an ESPN report earlier today. Miami wanted to protect its projected cap space for the summer of 2021, when several high-level players are expected to hit the free agent market. “I wanted everything. But I wasn’t going to … compromise a two-year plan,” Riley said, adding “I like Gallo. I think he would have fit in really well. “
  • Trading Justise Winslow to Memphis in a three-team deal that also included Minnesota was the hard part for Riley. Winslow has been injured most of the season. “I know he’s missed 150 games during 4 ½ years with us,” Riley said. “We’re going to miss him. The Memphis Grizzlies got a great young player.”
  • No decision has been made on whether to offer Derrick Jones Jr. a contract this offseason. Jones becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer. “I like the fact he’s improved his three-point shooting,” Riley said. “Like the fact he’s become a better, more consistent defender. When that time comes we have a decision to make.”
  • The Heat will scour the buyout market for a rim protector, per Riley: “We will keep our eyes out. We are happy part of this transaction gives us the possibility of a buyout player later on.”

Pat Riley Talks Heat Roster, Outlook, First-Round Picks

Although the Heat are cap-strapped for now, they have long targeted the summer of 2021 as a time to potentially make a big splash. Maintaining cap flexibility for that offseason is one reason why the team has been unwilling to make a play for Chris Paul, whose contract extends through 2022.

Speaking today to reporters, Heat president of basketball operations Pat Riley spoke about that idea of retaining flexibility for 2021 while also leaving the door open to potentially upgrade a team that’s off to a 9-3 start this season.

“Right now, we’re in the present moment,” Riley said, per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. “We can manage all the flexibility that we need depending on how we see the team perform. I’m patient but if something happens and it can make a huge difference, I’m all for it. If not, we’ll wait.”

Riley, who said he’s “pleased” with his team’s performance so far and is “cautiously optimistic” about Miami’s outlook going forward, addressed several other topics during his conversation with reporters today. Here are a few of the highlights, via Jackson’s round-up:

  • Responding to the suggestion that the Heat’s current roster pieces fit together nicely, Riley agreed, though he suggested that’s something the front office will continue to monitor. “They fit until they don’t. Some nights, it looks like nothing fits. But right now, Spo (Erik Spoelstra) has exactly what he needs for how he wants to play,” Riley said. “… When we signed Jimmy Butler, I knew we were going to be as good or maybe better. Now much better would be dependent on other factors, the performances of other players. Was Meyers Leonard going to fit in? Our young players. The development of Bam (Adebayo) and Justise (Winslow). You just go on and on. So yes, I’m pleased.”
  • Riley declined to predict what might happen with players like Goran Dragic, Derrick Jones, and Leonard reaching free agency in 2020, reiterating that the club is living in “the present moment” and indicating those decisions will be made down the road.
  • Riley didn’t specifically address the Dion Waiters situation, but said it’s “always disappointing” to have to discipline players. “There has not been a year in my career there has not been adversity and you deal with it,” Riley said. “… It’s been dealt with. We’ll move on, as we have.”
  • The Heat have traded away multiple future first-round picks, but Riley doesn’t mind just having a first-rounder every other year as long as his club is consistently making the playoffs. “Let’s say a great team is (drafting) 20 to 30 – you are in top 10 (in the NBA standings) – let’s say you are there,” Riley said. “I think a draft pick every other year is good. I never had a chance to really get a lot of lottery picks. I’ve been lucky to have great players.”
  • Riley is pleased that the Heat haven’t had to truly bottom out since the days of their Big Three, though he acknowledges that it took a few seasons to retool the roster and regain assets: “We were not in a desperation mode. … [But] it took time to create the capital – draft capital, monetary capital, health capital – to do certain things.”

Johnson Close To Returning To Heat Camp

Heat president Pat Riley said forward James Johnson is very close to reaching his conditioning requirements and joining the team for training camp, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel reports.

Johnson failed to meet Riley’s standards – which Johnson’s agent Mark Bartelstein described as a weight issue – and has been working out apart from the team.

“He’s already almost there again,” Riley said. “So I think in very short notice I’m going to turn this over to (coach) Erik (Spoelstra).”

Riley says he has no hard feelings toward Johnson but that the banishment “had to be done.”

“I’ve always had that feeling about players, even the ones that may fall short of certain goals and things of that nature,” he said. “It’s just something that had to be done. Now, he realizes it, and I realize it. It’s not going to take away from the team and it’s not going to take away from him once he reaches those conditioning requirements.”

Johnson has a $15.3MM contract this season with a $16MM player option for the 2020/21 season. He’s the projected starter at power forward after starting 33 of 55 games in which he appeared last season.

Heat Notes: Butler, Olynyk, Winslow, Haslem

The culture established by team president Pat Riley was a deciding factor in Jimmy Butler agreeing to join the Heat, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

“The winning habits, the winning ways. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?” he said. “I was excited to have an opportunity to come here, to be here, but when I keep hearing about this culture I was like, ‘I need that in my life.’”

Butler, who received a four-year deal worth approximately $141MM as part of a sign-and-trade with the Sixers, has shown that work ethic during early-morning workouts and in pickup games. Riley describes his biggest summer acquisition as a top-10 player in the NBA

“The one thing that I feel that I owe the franchise and this city is to put the most competitive team on the court that we can and one that will compete for championships,” Riley said. “I think having Jimmy Butler here is a step in that direction.”

We have more on the Heat:

  • Big man Kelly Olynyk won’t be available for the start of training camp but he’s expected to be ready for the opener, Reynolds reports in the same story. He suffered a bone bruise in his right knee while playing for Team Canada prior to the FIBA World Cup. Every other player on the training camp roster is expected to be available at the start of camp.
  • Riley wasn’t thrilled that Justise Winslow said publicly he wanted to be the starting point guard, Reynolds tweets. Winslow commented that he wanted to be the team’s floor leader earlier this month. He played well in that role last season after injuries struck but the starter in recent seasons, Goran Dragic, remains on the roster.
  • Butler would consider playing for Team USA in next year’s Olympics if he’s asked, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets.
  • Prior to re-signing veteran forward Udonis Haslem, Riley asked him if he wanted to coach this summer, Reynolds tweets. Haslem said he wasn’t interested in coaching but Riley believes he’ll eventually change his mind, Reynolds adds.

Southeast Notes: Gordon, Wizards, Miller

Aaron Gordon jumped on Sirius XM NBA Radio to talk about the Magic‘s NBA offseason and he portrayed optimism about Markelle Fultz‘s future with the club.

“[Fultz] is a sleeper. If he wakes up and if he’s awake and woken up, he’s a monster,” Gordon said.

Fultz, whose return to the court has yet to be determined, will have a chance to win the team’s starting point guard spot. Incumbent starter D.J. Augustin, who has one season left on his deal, and Michael Carter-Williams, who re-signed with Orlando on a one-year deal, will be the former No. 1 overall pick’s top competition for the role.

Orlando didn’t make major additions in the backcourt this offseason. The team re-signed a few members of its core (Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross) and brought in Al-Farouq Aminu with its mid-level exception. Gordon is excited about the addition of Aminu, as well as the continuity the team will experience next season.

“We got Al-Farouq, which is dope,” Gordon said. “[He’s] another 3-and-D guy. Tenacious, hard noise, long-defender and that’s the most beautiful thing. Nothing has changed from this year to last year.”

Here’s more from the Southeast Division:

  • Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington examines whether the Wizards can make a quick turnaround. Hughes argues that if Washington is going to contend sooner than later, the team needs its young talent to show improvement. That would increase each players’ trade value and give the Wizards an avenue to place an immediate difference maker next to Bradley Beal.
  • The Hawks have promoted Tori Miller to assistant GM of the College Park Skyhawks, according to the G League affiliate’s website. Miller spent the last two seasons as the Skyhawks’ Manager of Basketball Operations. She broke into the NBA as an intern with the Suns from 2014-16.
  • Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel envisions Pat Riley remaining with the Heat for the foreseeable future, as the scribe details in his latest mailbag. Winderman adds that Miami’s team president remains determined to get the team back to contention and the franchise’s young players are suited to help them achieve that goal.

Heat Acquire Jimmy Butler In Sign-And-Trade

The Heat have officially acquired Jimmy Butler from the Sixers in a sign-and-trade deal that also includes the Trail Blazers and the Clippers, according to press releases from Miami and Philadelphia.

The Heat also acquired big man Meyers Leonard from the Trail Blazers and cash considerations from the Clippers. Miami sent shooting guard Josh Richardson to Philadelphia, center Hassan Whiteside to the Blazers and a conditional first-round pick to the Clippers. The Clippers also received forward Maurice Harkless from Portland and the draft rights to 2017 second-round pick Mathias Lessort from the Sixers.

The Clippers and Blazers have also confirmed the swap.

The 2023 first-rounder that the Heat forwarded to the Clippers, which is lottery-protected through 2025 and unprotected in 2026, was subsequently moved to the Thunder as part of the agreed-upon Paul George blockbuster.

Butler inked a four-year, $141MM contract with the Heat. Miami waived forward Ryan Anderson and stretched his contract in order to stay below the hard cap and complete the sign-and-trade.

“Jimmy’s leadership, tenacity, professionalism, defensive disposition and his ability to create his own shot will improve our roster immediately,” Miami president Pat Riley said in the press release. “Any time you can add a four-time All-Star to your roster, you make that move. Meyers is a versatile big, a great shooter, can play inside and block shots. The addition of both men puts us in a great position to win.”

The disgruntled Butler was dealt by Minnesota to Philadelphia last season. The Sixers wanted to retain Butler but couldn’t convince him to stay and got something for him via the sign-and-trade mechanism. In 65 total games for the Wolves and Sixers last season, Butler averaged 18.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.0 APG, and 1.9 SPG with a .462/.347/.855 shooting line. Richardson averaged a career-high 16.6 PPG and 4.1 APG last season.

Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey called the acquisition of Whiteside an “impact move for our roster.” The Blazers were looking for a starting center with Jusuf Nurkic on the mend from a serious leg injury.

Heat Notes: Riley, Whiteside, Dragic, Haslem

Heat president Pat Riley spoke about the state of the Heat recently, and Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald passes along some of the more relevant take-aways from Riley’s comments.

Despite Justice Winslow‘s success running the point while Goran Dragic was injured last season, Riley expects Dragic to be the team’s starting point guard for the 2019/20 season. Riley also expects both Dion Waiters and James Johnson to come back strong from injuries and play a significant role.

Regarding first-round pick Tyler Herro, Riley said that the 19-year-old guard “has proven in his short time at Kentucky that he’s not only a great shooter, but he’s a competitor, he’s tough, and he can defend. We’re very excited to have him.”

Riley declined to comment on the 32nd overall pick KZ Okpala, as his rights are still owned by the Pacers. He likewise declined to speak about Bol Bol, as his rights are being traded to the Nuggets.

There’s more out of Miami this afternoon from Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel:

  • Cap-strapped after both Hassan Whiteside  and Dragic opted into their player options for the 2019/20 season, the Heat are in somewhat of a holding pattern until they are able to clear those two off their books in the summer of 2020. For now, Pat Riley seems keen on encouraging Heat fans to root their young team on towards a playoff berth next season (link).
  • The Heat are likely to carry 14 players on their roster during the 2019/20 season in order to avoid the luxury tax, but will Udonis Haslem be that 14th-man (link)? It’s a possibility, and Haslem has said that his family with play a primary role in his retirement decision.
  • The conundrum the Heat face with Whiteside next season is that while he may have the chance to stay healthy and rediscover his game, how does that help Miami if they’re not a championship contender (link)? Whiteside’s contract ends after the 2019/20 season, and if the Heat are serious about developing their young core, Whiteside doesn’t really have a place on the roster past this season, so letting him stuff the stat sheet on a mediocre team for one season really does the Heat no good.

Goran Dragic Picks Up Player Option

Goran Dragic has picked up his $19.2MM player option for the 2019/20 season, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports (Twitter link). Rade Filipovich, Dragic’s agent, said the point guard “wants to stay in Miami forever,” Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald tweets.

Dragic had until June 29 to make a decision, though the Heat have been operating under the assumption that he would make this move. Miami now has roughly $102.6MM in guaranteed salary on the books for the 2019/20 season.

Rumblings that the Heat are looking for a point guard upgrade didn’t stop Dragic from picking up his option. Dragic is now eligible to be traded.

The Heat originally traded for the veteran point guard at the 2015 trade deadline, giving up four players and pair of picks in the deal. Norris Cole, Danny Granger, Shawne Williams, and Justin Hamilton were all sent to Phoenix — none of those players are on an NBA roster anymore.

The Suns used the 2018 pick they received from the deal to select Zhaire Smith and packaged him along with Miami’s 2021 selection—the other pick Phoenix received from the Dragic deal—to move up and take Mikal Bridges (the Clippers now own Miami’s 2021 selection via the Tobias Harris trade).

Prior to picking up his option, Dragic did not receive any assurances from Pat Riley that the Heat would not trade him, per Jackson (Twitter link). However, Riley also didn’t indicate that trading him was the plan.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.