So here we are, having come full circle through the calendar within the confines of a single season, Pat Riley addressing the media on the eve of training camp on Sept. 27, 2019 about what might follow, with the Miami Heat still with unfinished business a year later.
Looking back, Riley, as is typical, largely (but not completely) proved prescient about these intervening 12 months that have delivered the Heat to this stage.
So what did Riley say then? And how does it reflect now?
Then: He took Justise Winslow to task for proclaiming himself as the Heat’s successor at point guard.
“I just think he put that onto himself, unbeknownst that there is an All-Star that we have at that position,” Riley said.
Now: Goran Dragic returned to his All-Star form, albeit as a reserve during the regular season, now arguably as essential as any player in the Heat playoff rotation.
As for Winslow, the preoccupation with being a leading man eventually rubbed too many the wrong way. That, and an ongoing injury history, contributed to his midseason trade to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Then: Riley said 2019-20 could turn into a Heat season of redemption for James Johnson and Dion Waiters, after nothing but injuries and unmet expectations.
“Guys who can compete are guys that I fall in love with. James Johnson is a competitor; Dion Waiters is a competitor,” Riley said.
Now: Days later, Johnson was banished from training camp for failing to meet the team’s conditioning standards, and weeks later, Waiters would receive the first of three team suspensions for insubordination and violation of team rules.
Both were included in the Winslow deal with the Grizzlies, with Johnson now with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Waiters with the Los Angeles Lakers. Into the void stepped Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder, closer fits to Riley’s vision of competitors.
Then: Riley reiterated how the offseason acquisition of Jimmy Butler in free agency from the Philadelphia 76ers was foundational.
“The fact that Jimmy Butler wanted to come and play in Miami, that was enough for me,” he said. “We’re going to find out how he meshes with our team. We’ll see what his impact on winning is. That’s what I’m encouraged about. I embrace all the qualities he has.”
Now: The acquisition of Butler in free agency proved foundational.
Now, each Heat victory at Disney World in the NBA’s quarantine bubble is followed by mutual acknowledgements of affection and respect between Riley and Butler.
Then: Riley stressed that the Heat could have something special in first-round pick Tyler Herro.
“He knows he’s going to have to earn it,” Riley said. “We all know he can shoot the ball. We all know that he has a toughness to him.”
Now: Herro earned it, named second-team All-Rookie and putting together a postseason that makes that designation come off as a serious slight.
All the while, the Heat did make the No. 13 pick out of Kentucky earn it, limited to just eight regular-season starts.
Then: Riley noted that the apprenticeship of Bam Adebayo was over, with it time for a payoff.
“It’s put up or shut up, too, time,” he said. “A lot of young guys that we have on the team that are now fixtures.”
Now: Adebayo made his first All-Star Game in February and kept going from there, finishing as runner-up for NBA Most Improved Player.
Had it not been for clearing out Hassan Whiteside to the Portland Trail Blazers in the Butler machinations, the Heat may never truly have realized what they had in Adebayo.
Then: Riley emphasized that Kendrick Nunn’s summer league was the start of something bigger.
“He’s like a German Shepherd, man,” Riley said. “I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. Maybe he can become Tyler Johnson, Udonis Haslem, somebody like Ike Austin, that can really play.”
Now: Nunn seized a starting role on opening night and never gave it up the balance of the regular season, before COVID-19 sapped his momentum going into the NBA’s Disney restart.
Nunn finished as Rookie of the Year runner-up, arguably with as much upside as almost any of the Heat’s undrafted prospects over the years.
Then: Riley said there is a reason the Heat extended a three-year guaranteed contract to second-round pick KZ Okpala.
“He’s just like a Derrick Jones Jr., just younger,” Riley said.
Now: Injuries short-circuited the rookie season for the forward out of Stanford, but there remains organizational hope of Okpala as another prospect in the pipeline.
Then: Riley said it would become clear why Udonis Haslem was invited back for a 17th season.
“He is quintessential to almost everything we do,” he said. “His influence as a person and as a man and as a player is so respected by our guys.”
Now: Haslem has proven quintessential to almost everything the Heat does. His influence as a person and as a man arguably has never been more respected in the locker room.
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