MIAMI -- Pat Riley had a simple question for Stan Van Gundy:
"Are you ready?"
It was early Wednesday morning, only a couple hours after Riley
decided he didn't need to coach anymore. Van Gundy didn't really
know how to respond.
"That conversation's taken place two or three times in last 18
months," Van Gundy said. "And it's never come to fruition. I
didn't put any stock in it. I could tell he was serious, but at the
same time I just sort of thought in my mind, 'Let's wait until
tomorrow and see where he is with it."'
Riley resigned Friday as coach of the Miami Heat at a hastily
called news conference, only four days before the team he reloaded
with young but largely unproven talent opens its season. He will
remain as team president; his first official order of business was
hiring Van Gundy as the fifth coach in franchise history.
"I just believe that with this new team and these guys and the
flexibility that we have that another voice is needed on the
court," Riley said. "I'm firmly convinced about that. And I think
it's Stan's voice. That's why I did this."
Riley, 58, ranks second in NBA history with 1,110 victories, and
he led the Los Angeles Lakers to four championships in the 1980s.
Riley won six division titles in his eight years in Miami, but only
made the Eastern Conference finals once, losing to Michael Jordan's
Chicago Bulls in 1997.
But the Heat missed the playoffs the past two years, finishing
at the bottom of the Atlantic Division last season at 25-57 _
Riley's worst record in 21 years as an NBA head coach.
"This organization has changed dramatically over the eight
years since I've been here," Riley said. "We had one great team
that was a compelling, contending team that couldn't get it done.
The last three years have been patching and transitioning and
getting to the point that we got to right now."
The new coach is one of many new looks the Heat will have when
they open their season Tuesday at Philadelphia. A pair of
newcomers, rookie guard Dwyane Wade and free agent forward Lamar
Odom, will join perimeter players Caron Butler and Eddie Jones,
plus veteran center Brian Grant in the projected lineup.
"I've been looking forward to the day that I could run an
organization without the pressures of having to coach, too," Riley
Riley said he wouldn't have gone upstairs if he didn't truly
believe the franchise was on solid footing. The team is beneath the
salary cap, has flexibility to possibly add big-ticket free agents
after this season, and has players like Butler and Odom whom Riley
believes are budding superstars and worthy candidates to serve as
the franchise's cornerstones for the future.
Plus, Van Gundy _ the brother of Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van
Gundy _ has long been ready to take over, Riley said. But the new
Heat coach was humble about following his mentor.
"I'm not going to try to be Pat Riley," he said. "I don't
think it's a difference in philosophy so much as we're just
different people. I'm not getting into those comparisons. I'm
certainly not looking to make a lot of Pat Riley comparisons here
to begin with."
Players were shocked by Riley's announcement. So was Van Gundy,
who now becomes part of just the second set of brothers to coach in
the NBA; Herb and Larry Brown did so in the 1970s.
Van Gundy, 44, was a college head coach for eight seasons, three
at Castleton State, four at UMass-Lowell and one at Wisconsin.
Memphis Grizzlies president Jerry West, who was the Lakers'
general manager during Riley's tenure there, said he was stunned by
"He will be missed," West said. "As a friend, I hope this is
a start to a new life that will bring home as much satisfaction to
him as his enormous coaching career. He is a Hall of Fame coach,
for sure, and I wish him the best."
Riley was voted one of the top 10 coaches in NBA history in
1996. His 21 seasons running NBA teams include from 1981-90 with
the Lakers, 1991-95 with the New York Knicks and 1995-03 with
Miami. He was the NBA's Coach of the Year in 1990, 1993 and 1997.
Riley led the "Showtime" Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar to the 1982, 1985 and 1987-88 league titles. With the
Knicks, he had more of a defense-oriented, bruising team that lost
to Houston in the 1994 NBA Finals. With the Heat, though, Riley
never duplicated that sort of success.
"I'm going to manage the team that I built," Riley said.
"Contrary to what people think, I'm 18 feet from that court. I'll
be out there every morning at 9:30, sitting and watching. I will
not interfere. I'll try not to."