The Pat Riley Taking the Heat Debate Verdict

December 2, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Loyal Homer.

Erik Spoelstra should not be fired. Let’s clear that up right away. Though that fact has nothing to do with Pat Riley taking over the Miami Heat, the problems the Miami Heat are facing are not specific to the influence of Erik Spoelstra.

The Miami Heat have real basketball problems. Don’t let the consecutive lopsided victories against the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers fool you. The Heat are struggling. The team does not have a true floor general in the form of a point guard that is able to divide up the touches on the floor between the superstars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. The team also lacks a real low post threat, with respect to the fan favorite and ever-popular Zydrunas Ilgauskas. These are real basketball problems that not even elite superstars can overcome.

None of those basketball problems are Erik Spoelstra’s fault. In fact, they are the fault of Pat Riley. The general manager of the team has done a fairly poor job of building a complete basketball team. Riley is great at attracting superstars, but the supporting players are not as important. More importantly, they are injured right now. The injuries to Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller have devastated the team from a role playing standpoint.

Again, this is not Erik Spoelstra’s fault. It is, however, is problem.

As Loyal Homer states in his argument, Erik Spoelstra deserves respect, and he deserves time to become a great coach. He is long time friends with Pat Riley and has earned his respect. And, as Loyal Homer points out in his argument, Pat Riley’s last foray into coaching was not the championship season. Rather, it was a season when he coached a team that won just 15 games. Yikes.

As Optimist Prime points out his argument, however, Pat Riley is too proud to watch his team go down in flames.

Both arguments are correct to a point. Pat Riley is proud, and Erik Spoelstra is thrust into difficult circumstances with insoluble basketball problems. But, one point won me over. Optimist Prime may be right about Riley’s pride, but Pat Riley is too proud to become head coach right now. He will face the exact same problems that Erik Spoelstra faces now. Basketball won’t change, and Riley knows that. If Riley takes over as head coach, the point guard and low post center position will not be magically improved on the team. Loyal Homer rightly points out that, “It’s not realistic to think Riley could come down out of coaching retirement on his little white stallion and wave the magic wand and all of a sudden make the troubles of the Heat go away.”

It doesn’t matter if Wade or LeBron have faith in Spoelstra one minute, and no faith the next. Pat Riley has been around basketball too long to a) not recognize the real reason a team is struggling and b) not care enough about his legacy to risk it being tainted by a return to coaching that is doomed to immediate failure, regardless of what superstars on thon the team.

Pat Riley is not the best coach for this team because he knows that he doesn’t have the best team. He jettisoned Stan Van Gundy several years ago because he knew the team had potential to win a championship. He doesn’t know that with this team, despite the hype. Reality is different, so the front office is quiet and Pat Riley is enjoying the view from his box, content to watch his young coach struggle until more good players can be placed around the superstar nucleus.

When Riley gets more role players and the overall team improves, the he will mount the white stallion and ride in to rescue the team. Those conditions have not yet been met, so Riley is content to hang Spoelstra out to dry.

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The Pat Riley Taking the Heat Debate

November 30, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Loyal Homer.

You know that saying about history repeating itself? Well, there’s a good reason that saying exists. Just ask Stan Van Gundy.

In 2006 the Miami Heat had a bunch of promise. The team had two certifiable superstars in Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal. But, head coach Stan Van Gundy was not performing to the standard his hall of fame general manager, Pat Riley, expected. So, several games into the 2005-2006 season, Riley fired Van Gundy and took over the head coaching job.

The Riley takeover was a whole lot of drama that would have been terrible, if not for the fact that the team won the NBA championship that season. Seems like Riley knew what he was doing.

But, would he know what he was doing a second time, should he decide to jettison embattled coach Erik Spoelstra? That’s where today’s debate topic comes in: Is it time for Pat Riley to assume the head coaching duties in Miami?

Optimist Prime will argue that it is time for Pat Riley to take over the Heat while Loyal Homer will argue that Riley should stay out of it and let his young coach figure it out.

Riley’s legacy is on the line, but would jumping in to the fire help or hurt? The debate will settle it. Begin!

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The Pat Riley Taking the Heat Debate… Heat Must Live Life of Riley

November 30, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you are aware that LeBron James took his talents to South Beach over the summer, choosing to team up with current Miami Heat player Dwayne Wade and former Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh. The idea was to form an NBA super team that was to dominate the Eastern Conference and win somewhere between 70 and 80 games.

As you might have heard, things haven’t quite worked that way for King James and his court. LeBron and his subjects (or is it Wade and his subjects?) are off to a pedestrian 10-8 start due to dysfunctional play on the court.

The one part of the Heat that appears to be in full working order is the leak machine, however. Rumors are running rampant that players don’t trust Eric Spoelstra and/or they don’t like him and/or they think he’s an idiot and/or they think he thinks they’re idiots. When you have stories about your presumed championship basketball team (in November) that start with, “sources tell ESPN…” this is not a recipe for regular season success – let alone playoff success. There are innumerable articles online detailing ways to fix the Heat, but I believe I have a way to fix the Heat. They need to put Pat Riley behind the bench – showtime will be back.

If you’re an informed NBA fan, the first thing you’ll say is, “But I heard Dwayne Wade expressly stated that he does not want Pat Riley to coach the team.” While we the fans are trying to decipher that by parsing statements to the press and guessing on the veracity of anonymous blog posts, our suspicion is that there is probably something to that statement. It’s the old, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

But, smoke… fire… it doesn’t matter. Wade is a competitor, arguably one of the grittiest competitors in the NBA. While he may initially bristle at Pat Riley as head coach, that will go away if the team starts winning. And they will under Riley. Say what you want about Pat Riley, and people have, but the man is a winner. He boasts a career winning percentage of .636, nine conference championships, and five NBA championships. He won with “showtime” and he won with the rough and tumble New York Knicks. Can he adapt his team’s style to the modern NBA? Absolutely.

The bigger question, however, is will the players adapt to him? That requires a level of psychoanalysis that I am not qualified to perform, but I think it comes down to a simple question: Will the team bend to the will of the competitor (Dwayne Wade) or the will of the supposed fun-loving “king” (LeBron). I think, when the chips are down, the team and LeBron will cede whatever control they have because ultimately losing isn’t fun. Even LeBron, though he’s shown somewhat of a distaste for rising to challenges presented to him, knows that losing isn’t fun. The Heat’s current headless, freewheeling style will not lead to winning games. Something must change, and Riley is that positive change.

Most importantly, Pat Riley is too proud a man to watch the team he built to go down in flames. Even if he and Spoelstra are close (and word is that they are), winning is all that matters to Riley. He put a bit of his legacy on the line building this super team during the off-season, and men like him don’t cede their legacy to the whims of players or sportswriters. They mold players and teams to their will and live to succeed. The Miami Heat will be winners, but only with a strong-willed, brilliant basketball mind like Pat Riley at the helm.

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The Pat Riley Taking the Heat Debate… Keep the Hair Gel in the Bottle

November 30, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

It’s no surprise to me that the Miami Heat are struggling somewhat, and their current status in the NBA standings indicates that they are indeed struggling. I thought it would take some time for the evil trifecta to gel, and that’s been the case on many nights. But 10-8? That’s a record I thought would belong to a team like the Atlanta Hawks, a middle of the road team with no real shot of advancing deep into the playoffs. These struggles have led to the popular opinion that Eric Spoelstra is squarely on the hot seat and rumblings have been coming out of South Beach that Spoelstra , or Spo (as LeBron calls him) is losing the confidence and trust of his players. It’s just speculation that current Heat president Pat Riley may come down from the front office, put a fresh batch of hair gel in, and return courtside. But, with all due respect to what the Zen Master thinks, count me among those who don’t think that would be such a good idea.

Don’t get me wrong. Pat Riley is widely regarded as one of the greatest coaches in NBA history. He has won five NBA championships, including one in 2006 with a Dwyane Wade-led Heat team. That was then. This is now. Riley is now 65 years young. Not old by an means, but old enough to be the grandfather of some of these Heat players.

I’m hearing the critics say, “Well, Pat just won a title four years ago. He hasn’t lost it.” Well, in my mind, Pat Riley had something to prove that season. Yes, he came in and saved the day for Superman (Shaq) and won a title. But he also had to prove to himself, and maybe to the rest of the league, that he could win without the great Lakers teams on the court in front of him. You see, all of his previous championships were won during the Showtime Era . He was able to win with the Heat and for that, he was awarded a lifetime supply of hair gel, probably.

Lest we forget, however, what happened during Riley’s last season in Miami, which was the 2007-2008 campaign. He went a forgettable 15-67, which was the worst record of his career. Maybe that’s fresh in Wade’s mind when Wade is supposedly secretly not in support of Riley coming back courtside. If Riley wouldn’t have the support of Wade, then why even make that move if you are the Heat? Isn’t that where you are now? Isn’t there a coach in charge who supposedly doesn’t have the support of the players? D-Wade’s quote of, “I’m not going to say he’s my guy, but he’s my coach, you know” certainly is interesting, considering Spo was already on staff when Wade was drafted.

It’s not realistic to think Riley could come down out of coaching retirement on his little white stallion and wave the magic wand and all of a sudden make the troubles of the Heat go away. Some of these troubles are going to have to be worked around (the lack of a true center and the dubious distinction of having a member of the Fab Five on the team, some 19 years after he first stepped on campus in Ann Arbor). Who is to say Riley could fix this mid-season, especially since he has been out of coaching for two and a half years?

There are just too many unknowns with Riley. Yes, he has the experience, but after telling the James-Chris Bosh-Wade during the off-season that “Spo” was the man, would he have the respect? That’s questionable, and that makes Riley’s possible return courtside a questionable decision.

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