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Riley May Have No Choice But To Back To The Sidelines

November 11, 2010

If Eric Spolstra can’t pull everything together fast, Pat Riley might be forced to takeover from the sidelines.

From Yahoo Sports:

MIAMI – Before the summer’s free-agent frenzy, Pat Riley issued a public bluff: If a superstar wanted him on the bench, Riley wouldn’t hesitate to push out Erik Spoelstra. The words hung over Riley’s young coach, the way Riley’s silence on supporting Stan Van Gundy did years ago. The preening was needless, because Riley wants the grind of coaching as little as Dwyane Wade(notes) wants the grind of playing for him again.

“I don’t believe Pat’s going to choose to go downstairs anymore, but there could come a point when [owner] Micky [Arison] tells him, ‘Go down there and fix this,’ ” said one league source close to Riley and Wade. “And then, he may have no choice.”

For all his public bluster over the summer, Riley has privately insisted that he’s grown too accustomed to the freedoms of the front office. Old Man Riles can play emperor these days, take his bows for the assemblage of talent and never the blame for why it isn’t working so seamlessly on the floor.

For all the breathless hyperbole – here and elsewhere – the Heat are 5-3 with a fantastic chance to creep closer to .500 on Thursday night with the Boston Celtics on the shores of Biscayne Bay. The flaws of these Heat can no longer be dismissed by unfamiliarity. Chris Bosh(notes) is struggling to play basketball under scrutiny and the team’s strength inside is nonexistent.

And don’t think for a moment that LeBron James’(notes) tempered praise of his own coach hasn’t gone unnoticed in the league. Once he praised the Hall of Fame status of Jerry Sloan, insisted that Sloan knew exactly what the Heat would run at the end of the overtime loss on Tuesday, the passive-aggressive act that Mike Brown knew all too well with the Cleveland Cavaliers returned.

The true judgment of Spoelstra won’t come until the postseason. Whatever issues these Heat have in the regular season, they’ll still have a lot of long winning streaks and blowout victories. They’ll still push past 60 victories. Spoelstra and Wade have a bond, history and a common goal beyond winning titles: Keeping Riley upstairs, keeping themselves in power.

When things don’t go well for the Heat, there’s one guarantee: James will never take responsibility. Here’s a man who quit in the middle of Game 5 to the Celtics a season ago, stopped playing in a conference semifinal and still wanted Brown and his supporting cast blamed like in the past. Here’s a man who needed Nike to make some kind of half-baked commercial apology that only came within the context of pushing his shoes. James knows only how to be about James, and he’ll sacrifice anyone to protect himself.

Ultimately, Spoelstra is an easy target for everyone. He’s a fine coach and he’s thrust into a tougher job than people want to admit. Without size, without much depth, he must win a title now. What’s more, the flaws that come with James as a leader – especially the focus that comes and goes – takes its toll on a team.

Perhaps James likes the idea of Riley’s cachet and privately hopes he’s his coach someday. Only he knows right now. Ultimately, James will dominate the organization. That’s coming with him, and they all know it. Unless the Heat play better, blame will come, and come in unprecedented ways. No regular season has ever been under so much examination, even with all the pompom coverage the Heat get in the media.

“LeBron doesn’t know Riley as a coach,” one league executive said. “LeBron has been coddled most of his life, and I just don’t see him embracing Pat’s style as a coach.”

For now, Riles is upstairs, still playing Godfather over these Heat. He likes his life there, and seems content to take the bouquets as the NBA’s executive of the year. Sooner or later, though, Riles could find himself summoned downstairs – against the will of everyone but the two owners of these Miami Heat: Micky Arison and LeBron James.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 11, 2010 9:15 PM

    I think Riley will give Spolstra until mid season….Honestly, LeBron and Co. need a coach like Riley who demands respect. LeBron ‘s definitely used to pushovers(Mike Brown), so that would be a needed change of coaching styles.

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