Rant of the Week: Pat Riley’s Legacy Staining Mistake

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Welcome ladies and gents to ‘Rant of the Week’, a new series of articles from SportsBuzzMiami lead writer, Andrew Lorenzen. Each of these articles will be dedicated to a specific aspect, issue, or topic from sports that is deserving of a scathing rant. Consider these articles to be a place of accountability for some of the kingmakers of the sports industry where their mistakes and idiosyncrasies can be examined and disemboweled. 

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Without further ado, welcome to ‘Rant of the Week: Pat Riley’s Legacy Staining Mistake’

Let’s get the mandatory Pat Riley worship out of the way: Riley is a titan of Miami sports. He almost literally built the Miami Heat from scratch and has done an absolutely spectacular job of leading them to three NBA Championships, countless playoff appearances, forged a model NBA organization, conducted that organization with class and dignity, engineered what will go down as the biggest coup d’etat in sports free agency history, engineered what will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in NBA Finals history, and absolutely earned the title of the Godfather of the NBA. As the proud owner of nine NBA championship rings, it is not difficult to say that Riley is one of the greatest basketball minds in history and a phenomenal leader for the Miami Heat association.

 

But with that being said…

Pat Riley’s failure to resign Dwyane Wade in free agency this summer was a work of complete and utter idiocy, incompetence, and ignorance. It will go down in Miami Heat history as one of the single greatest mistakes in the franchise’s history as it uproots a culture of loyalty and respect, compromises the team’s chances of winning in both the short and long term, alienates an entire fanbase, and removes the greatest sports star in Miami history from the city.

There is no other way to say it:

The failure to resign Dwyane Wade is the biggest mistake of Pat Riley’s career.

 

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The Miami Heat have long been regarded as the ‘classiest’ organization to be found in the league. Riley prides himself in his ability to earn star players’ respect as his organization understands how to treat them with the dignity and esteem they covet. That reputation of loyalty and respect played a large role in how the Heat were able to engineer the 2010 NBA free agency ‘Big Three’ masterpiece. To convince Wade, Bosh, and Lebron to take paycuts in order to be able to play together, Riley had to sell not only on the potential of the roster but also on the culture of the organization that treated its stars better than any other team in the league and rewarded them handsomely for their efforts. And it worked. The reason the Heat were able to get a meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge last summer when they did not even have a fraction of enough cap space to sign him was entirely because of the classy, respectful culture that Pat Riley has constructed in Miami. The reason the Heat were able to be seriously regarded by Kevin Durant even in an uncertain time where the team does not know the fate of its hundred million dollar star player, Chris Bosh, was because of the culture Riley has constructed in Miami that players appreciate. When it comes to free agency: reputation is king and the Heat’s reputation was one of loyalty, respect, and dignity for its star players.

 

That culture and reputation has now had a stake driven through its heart by not resigning Wade.

 

What kind of a message does Riley think this sends to the NBA? After Dwyane Wade gave everything on that court for thirteen years, after he gave his blood, sweat, and tears for this franchise, and after he gave up millions of dollars and the legacy inflating statistics of being the number one player on a team in order to help his franchise win two titles in the Big Three era… After all that… You refuse to reward him with a sizeable final contract? What is that if not pure betrayal? The culture and reputation of being a ‘classy’ organization: consider it ruined. When you won’t even take proper care of the greatest star in Miami sports history, do you honestly think that NBA stars will believe when you say that if they come to Miami you’ll take proper care of them?

 

The Heat defined themselves by their reputation as a model organization of class and respect: Riley has ruined the very way Miami defines itself.

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But let’s not stop there: it also prevents Miami from having a chance at winning anything for years to come. It’s no secret that the roster for 2016-17 is set up to tank now that Wade’s gone. Does anyone seriously believe that a combo of Marcus Thornton and Derrick Williams will replace Wade’s production? I didn’t think so. A lineup of Goran Dragic-Josh Richardson- Justise Winslow- Derrick Williams-Hassan Whiteside is not a playoff team. It’s not even close to one. If we’re looking at the separation with Wade from the angle of pure basketball: it does not make sense. The Heat are going lose a lot of games next season in what will now have to be a rebuilding year. Losing Wade hurts the Heat from winning in the short term.

 

But what about the long term? Riley clearly did not want to have an inflated salary for Wade on the books when the star laden free agency of 2017 came. Could he be making the right move in order to create another Big 3 type coup? In short, the answer is ‘no’. Riley wants to keep cap space free to land a star in 2017? Then why did he give a max deal to Hassan Whiteside, why did he give a gigantic deal to Goran Dragic, why on Earth is he matching the Nets ten million a year offer for Tyler Johnson? Can anyone honestly say that if you were going to give Tyler Johnson ten million a year, you wouldn’t better off merely giving Wade twenty million and some odd dollars a year for a shorter time period? The argument that Riley wanted to conserve cap space in the future in an effort to lure big time free agents is ridiculous; he has committed even more salary to the books, he has removed two of the biggest allures of the franchise: a culture of respect and of playing with the legendary Dwyane Wade, and on top of it all, he’s created a losing team in the near future.

 

From all angles there is an absence of any logic, common sense, or intelligence in this move.

 

But let’s not just look at this in terms of basketball… Let’s also look at this in terms of emotion and sports morality also. This is simply wrong. Wade deserves a big paycheck. He has given everything he has had in his body for thirteen years, and it has taken a toll. The man has suffered countless injuries and worn down his body in the process of winning three championships for the team. He’s also been a gracious emissary for the city of Miami and the franchise as a whole as he’s done a tremendous job representing them with honor and poise wherever he’s gone. And this all not even to mention how much money he has left on the table in order to sacrifice for the good of the team. According to BussinessInsider, Wade gave up seventeen million dollars for the team over the course of his career. That’s not exactly pennies on the dollar. In terms of what’s simply right and wrong in one’s gut, Wade should never put on another jersey that doesn’t say ‘Miami Heat’ on it. 

 

Let’s sum it up from each illogical angle:

Did it help us lure NBA free agents in the future, potentially with the 2017 free agency class?

  1. This move has ruined Miami’s culture of class, respect, and loyalty in how it treats star players: a big attraction of coming to South Beach.
  2. It has removed another of the biggest attractions of playing in Miami: playing with Wade.
  3. It has pummeled Miami’s ability to win in this year, and star players rarely leap to losing basketball teams.
  4. It has led to the Heat committing salaries like Tyler Johnson on big contracts for the future, constricting cap space.

So, to sum that one up: Nope.

 

Was it the right move for Wade? Did he need a change of scenery perhaps?

Nope. Wade’s legacy is as a Heat lifer and the messiah who led the young franchise to the promised land time and time again. Now he ends his career as a Chicago Bull on a team unlikely to contend given the poor fit of a Rondo-Wade-Butler backcourt (expect cricket sounds from behind the three point line). This kills a large part of Wade’s legacy. While Riley was clearly in the wrong for not giving Wade the money he deserves, you also have to wonder how Wade was able to convince himself to implode his Miami legacy just for the money.

 

Well, did Wade even deserve a big pay check?

YES! Just look at what the guy did for your franchise. He gave up seventeen million dollars in order to win three championships for the Heat. He put his body on the line for thirteen years for this team. He took a backseat to Lebron in the prime of his career when he could’ve been contending for MVP’s, in order to win. How much does a player have to sacrifice in order to earn a big payday? Outside of giving up his first born child, Wade has made every single sacrifice imaginable for this team! He should’ve been paid for it.

 

Was it time to rebuild though? Could a big Wade contract have weighed the team down in the future while the odds of them winning this year wouldn’t have outweighed that?

No. The Heat can’t rebuild when they have pieces like Dragic, Bosh, and Whiteside on the roster and have an utter dearth of draft picks. Meanwhile, they had a roster that would have been solid enough to go deep in the playoffs with Wade (especially if Bosh could return), so where would be the sense in blowing it all up? Plus the main argument for not paying Wade was a potential Kobe Bryant situation where Wade’s play declined and the contract suffocated the team’s cap space, but that perspective doesn’t make sense…

Wade took a two year, 47 million dollar deal with Chicago. That’s making about 23.5 million dollars a year.

Kobe was making 30 million dollars a year when his contract was ruining the Lakers, was on the sidelines with a serious injury, was playing for a terribly mismanaged franchise, and had no talent around him.

Giving Wade a two year, 50 million dollar contract in Miami would have paid him his due without killing the cap and given the team a chance to win given the fact that the roster is in solid shape with Wade on board and that he can still play. On top of all of that, Wade only took a two year deal… So if it doesn’t work out, the team is off the hook in 2018!

 

So to conclude, there was no logic or intelligence in letting Wade go. This was a colossal mistake by Pat Riley that will be a stain on both his and the Miami Heat legacy.

It will hurt the team’s ability to attract big time free agents in the future.

It will hurt the team’s ability to win.

It will hurt the legacy of Wade and Riley.

Losing Wade will sting Miami for years to come.

Riley let his arrogance get the best of him on this one… And it could be his downfall.