No star to grow. No money to spend. No trade to make. No lottery pick to invest. No way in the Anthony Davis Sweepstakes. No way out of bad contracts to Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters and James Johnson unless, like dumping Tyler Johnson, a bad one comes in return.
No player more than a step above average on the roster.
No great surprise they’re ninth in the Eastern Conference.
No wonder, then, Heat President Pat Riley says he’s not going anywhere until he wins big again. That’s how you want it to end for him, right? That’s how any self-respecting Heat fan who rides-and-dies with Riley, who has enjoyed his great years with South Florida’s model franchise, should want it, too.
It is a fair question to ask, though, why a smart franchise looks so dumb the last couple of years. Yes, they suffered LeBron James’ exit and Chris Bosh’s illness in a manner that would take any franchise down. That doesn’t fully explain the spate of bad contracts and uneven decisions, though.
It’s an equally fair and more relevant question to ask: Does Riley, at 74 next month, have one more great run in him?
“I ain’t going out this way,’’ he told ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, “until we win another title,’’
This isn’t a rip job to doubt Riley, mind you. It’s an embrace job, to hope he does. It’s a cheer for him thinking bigger than anyone, right to the end, whenever it arrives. But this also a reality check to note Riley’s Heat have never looked further from a title in his near quarter century with the Heat.
Not when he entered in 1995 and had the ability to grab Alonzo Mourning and rehabilitate Tim Hardaway. Not when the roster looked stale in early 2000s and he refashioned it with the youthful talent of Dwyane Wade, Caron Butler and Lamar Odom. Not when he swung big with them to trade for Shaquille O’Neal. Not when he had a middling team in 2009 and assembled The Big Three.
Riley is up against more than a series of bad contracts that put the Heat in limbo through 2020. He’s up against a rebuilding Eastern Conference, too. It’s not just how Milwaukee and Toronto became formidable this year and have a chance to stay that way. It’s not just the talent on Boston and the roster of Philadelphia.
Suddenly, even a clown franchise like the New York Knicks has done enough to have an opportunistic leg up on the Heat, as far as having the chips to build a contender. And that’s not even touching what’s going on the mighty West.
The Heat remains a preferred destination spot in the NBA. But they’re so boxed in with bad contracts now they can’t even think of free agency until after next season. Riley’s advantages of a blue-chip franchise and South Florida’s sun are on hold until then. And where is a whale on the roster to help recruit another whale here?
For now, there are 26 games left for a team not just lacking star talent, but is so awkwardly built it doesn’t even have a second point guard to cover for Goran Dragic’s injury. Dragic might return Thursday night in Philadelphia. He should help lift the team into a first-round end in the playoffs.
That’s not what Riley plays for, though. He’s had the greatest career in basketball. He played against Lew Alcindor in high school, played for Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp in the seminal 1966 championship game against all-black Texas Western, played with the champion Lakers with Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, coached the Lakers’ Showtime era, rebuilt the Knicks to the NBA Finals and has three titles with the Heat.