Riley: “Not a new culture, but to tightening the screws on a culture that sometimes erodes just a little bit.”
A six-pack of Heat notes on a Monday:
▪ With the Heat missing the playoffs three of the five seasons in the post LeBron James era, some fans might be weary of hearing about Heat culture.
But team president Pat Riley spoke last week of its continued importance, and his determination to address what he suspects might have been regression in Miami’s demanding culture.
“I set the template for it back in 1995 when I got here,” Riley said. “It’s academic. It’s a culture that I think every professional team should start with…. They want their players to be world class athletes first and knowing that if they become that, their basketball skills can become more efficient when they’re in great condition. It just makes sense where it’s common sense. However, it’s hard to do that because you have to have the total commitment, absolute total commitment, from players. They always define a person’s character as what they do when nobody’s watching.
“Look, it’s big part of our culture. Hardest working, best conditioned, most professional. All of that never has changed. But every now and then, I used to call it, you got to tighten the screw if there is some slippage, and there may have been some slippage in some areas across the board. Not just player conditioning, but across the board in a lot of things. Then you jot that down as part of your thought process about what needs to be changed, and there will be changes next year. Not a new culture, but tightening the screws on a culture that sometimes erodes just a little bit.”
Riley also admitted “culture” is part of the team’s marketing plan.
“We sell the product through culture; we sell the product through on-court performance, especially at home, which we didn’t get this year,” Riley said. “That bothers me. How we lost games at home at times really upset me and the last thing I want to do is send our fans out to the beautiful night of Miami cheering like crazy in the first half of the 20-point lead and then leaving with a one-point loss.”
And if you’re tired of hearing about Heat culture after five nondescript seasons, Udonis Haslem also has a message:
“Every year we’ve been competitive, every year we’ve been right there. That’s part of the culture. We’ve taken guys who could’ve been one step away from being out of this league and turned their careers around and you see the kind of players they come to be and they turned out to be, and that’s part of the Heat culture. And it’s real.
“You got guys like JJ [James Johnson], who talks about ‘It’s not for everybody, but it’s perfect for me.’ There are certain guys who need this culture. Not just to be taken care of on the basketball court, but they need structure outside the basketball court as well to help them be the players that they need to be. So it’s real. That’s something we take serious … There still needs to be a culture. There still needs to be something around these guys that helps these guys catapult to the next level of being successful.”
▪ Riley once again was asked to explain the thinking in going all in on this roster and in the process, eliminating all cap space during the summers of 2017, 2018 and 2019.
“Once we didn’t land Kevin Durant or didn’t land Gordon Hayward, then it was time to sort of move on from searching for room and at the same time holding your other players hostage,” Riley said. “To move into a two- or three-year window with young players that we drafted and others who we thought were on-the-brink-to-make-it veterans that hadn’t made it somewhere else. What we came up with and what we found out is that we have a very, very competitive team.
“But it was a some-of-the-time thing and sometimes it was a none-of-the-time thing. And there were some games during the game that we were all of the time. There were performances from this team from half to half that absolutely amazed me in the transformation either from bad to good to great or a great first half where you led by 20-25 points and you look like you can beat Golden State. Then the second half, the roof caves in on you and you end up losing at the wire. There were just too many of those and we’re going to figure” out why that happened.
▪ One reason Riley holds to hope that he might be able to achieve something significant this summer — even with no cap space — is the new reality “that unrestricted free agents are become available even before they become unrestricted. So there’s a lot of different areas we can go in rebuilding the team fast and/or having the patience for the next couple years to take our young players, add two more young players to it and hope that a couple of the guys that we had this year have even better years because of health. All of that stuff is possible, but also it sounds like an excuse.
“I think we have built a base. We have now gotten out of depth [of having too many similar players]. We have our draft choices. The possibilities of room are right around the road. Don’t be making any kind of conclusions about next year in that we’re stuck with certain contracts or whatever it is you think we can’t get out of. That would be foolish thinking on your part.”
▪ Riley said this year’s NBA Draft is “deeper than what people say. I’m not going to name names but I’ve seen 30 players that are very good players. We’re at No. 13. I do think we would get something that would be equivalent to who we have on our team right now, Bam [Adebayo] and Justise [Winslow] and Josh [Richardson] and Derrick Jones Jr. There are going to be players that I think in that area will help us.”
▪ Richardson finished 11th among all small forwards in scoring at 16.6 per game. But his 41.2 percent field goal percentage was 22nd and his 35.7 percent three-point percentage was 28th.
Why the drop in shooting percentage?
“I’m not really sure,” Richardson said. “I think I took good shots all year. I don’t think I really forced the issue too much. I am happy with a lot of the shots I took and created. But next season, I just know I’ve got to be better.”
Does defending the top perimeter player on the opposing team affect his shooting percentage in terms of energy expended?
“Nah, not too much,” he said, “especially a guy who likes playing both ends of the court like myself. I take that challenge. I am too competitive to go a whole game without guarding the other team’s best wing player. Then I will be upset with myself if they score a whole lot of points and we lose and I wasn’t on the team’s best player a part of the game. That would bother me.”
As far as when to have an aggressive scoring mentality, Richardson said: “Next year, I will have to take that with me throughout the whole year. I can’t just do that when guys are hurt. I have to show myself and everybody else that I can be that guy consistently. But a lot of the year I think I did a good job.”
▪ In an interview with Good Morning America, Wade said he got a hangover for the first time in his life after partying in New York City following his final game in Brooklyn, and that it felt terrible.