Riley says Heat must redevelop their team culture
MIAMI -- Pat Riley spent two days conducting end-of-season interviews with his Miami Heat players, all of whom apparently affirmed something he already knew.
The Heat thought they could "turn it on" when the playoffs rolled around. And that way of thinking, more than anything else, was what Riley feels doomed Miami's chance at successfully defending its NBA championship.
"It's almost irreversible, the notion that you can always turn it on because you're talented or you're a veteran team and you've done it before," Riley said Wednesday. "I think for once and for all, with this franchise, that will never be uttered again or thought again."
With that, Riley -- the Heat's president -- began laying the groundwork for next season.
He doesn't know if he'll be back as coach. He doesn't know which free agents will be back or what the roster will look like, but he's vowing that dismissive attitudes toward the regular season simply won't be tolerated.
"We're going to have to redevelop the culture here," Riley said. "It's going to be a different one and I'm actually looking forward to getting back to those days because we need it. We need the discipline. We need the organization. We need the structure. We need the players to buy into an all-of-the-time, everyday routine."
Riley said that the dismissive ways cost the organization about $10 million -- the difference between playing 12 home playoff games last year and the two postseason games the Heat hosted this season, which ended Sunday when the Chicago Bulls finished off a four-game first-round sweep of the defending NBA champions.
The Heat were 44-38 during the regular season, the second-worst record by a reigning champion in 30 years. Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade missed significant time because of injuries and several other players got hurt. Even Riley missed 22 games for health reasons.
Yet, Riley refuses to make excuses.
"I think the attitude that we have was pervasive and transcended even the injuries," he said.
Even if the attitude changes tomorrow, the injury problems are going to plague the Heat for several more months.
Riley said Wade may need two surgeries, one to repair the left shoulder he dislocated in February and another relieve tendinitis in his knee. The team is also planning on sending a therapist to point guard Jason Williams' offseason home in Orlando to help him work through knee, ankle, leg and foot problems.
But Wade's issues are clearly the most pressing ones for the Heat medical staff these days.
"He needs to have a break here from everything for a while. But he can't," Riley said. "He's got to make a decision. ... If he's going to do it, he's got to do it now. He's got a little bit of a dilemma right now."
Wade has made no decisions on when, or if, to have either surgery. Any procedure would almost certainly rule him out for USA Basketball's attempt to qualify this summer for the Beijing Olympics -- and Riley said he'd prefer that Wade use that time to rest, anyway.
"It's not an easy time for Dwyane," Riley said. "He is absolutely distraught about the loss. The guy got hurt, came back, spent six, eight weeks rehabbing and to go out in four games -- he's really bothered by that."
The signs of this season's trouble, Riley said, started in September when players weren't coming in for informal workouts -- and the two or three who did arrive left because no one else was there. Riley said seven members of last year's nine-man rotation arrived for camp unable to meet offseason conditioning goals, and there was a palpable sense that Miami believed the first 82 games lacked much relevance.
And back in November, even Wade said there was "no joy" around the team -- which was five months removed from winning a title.
"Nothing was right. Nothing felt right. We didn't come back right. We didn't act right. We didn't play right. It wasn't right," Riley said, recalling what Wade told him this week in their season-ending meeting. "And he said to me, 'It wasn't fun.'"
So next season, the replica championship trophies paying homage to the 2006 team will remain on the doors leading to the locker room, the photos of last season's celebration will stay on the walls and the giant championship logo will stay plastered about the arena.
Everything else, Riley said, is subject to change.
"We earned our championship," Riley said. "We earned it. And we earned what we got this year, too."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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