Riley: Keeping Heat's Big Three intact 'doable'
Pat Riley has started to examine if he can keep this current Heat team together when the luxury tax penalties become much stiffer starting in 2013-14.
MIAMI -- To begin a rare news conference, Miami Heat president Pat Riley walked into the interview room at AmericanAirlines Arena, sat down at the dais and made his big announcement to the surrounding media.
"I'm tired of watching 'Homeland' 35 times. I'm ready for the playoffs," Riley said. This wasn't a scheduled appointment with the media, but Riley certainly had plenty to say after Miami's practice on Friday. All in all, his news conference lasted more than 45 minutes.
The main theme? Life is good for the defending champion Heat. But it's about to get tougher.
That's not just because the road to another championship begins on Sunday against the Milwaukee Bucks. The lingering questions about the Heat's future have been focused far beyond this season. In particular, whether Riley can keep this team together when the luxury tax penalties become much stiffer starting in 2013-14.
"It's doable in this tax economy, but I'll leave that up to [Heat owner] Micky [Arison]," Riley said with a laugh. "That will all be tackled after the season, but it is doable."
In other words, the ball is in Arison's hands. Just like the Heat president planned ahead years in advance of the summer of 2010, Riley said he has already had internal conversations with Heat brass about how to financially keep the star-studded core intact when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all opt out of their contracts after the 2013-14 season.
"I don't believe that we have to sell anybody on us anymore in 2014," Riley said. "It's all about winning now and when that time comes, we'll deal with it."
But the financial burden will begin starting in 2013-14 when taxpaying teams will have to pay $1.50 for every dollar they're over the luxury tax line. And it gets considerably more punitive in 2014-15 when the repeater penalties hit and the tax rate increases the deeper a team is into the tax.
Additionally, taxpaying teams will have more stringent roster management restrictions, including the inability to acquire players via sign-and-trades.
Keeping James, Wade and Bosh together long term is doable, but Riley indicated it would help if the Heat could find more cash to help the cause, pointing to the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that is partly owned by one of Riley's former players, Magic Johnson. In January, the Dodgers signed a television deal with Time Warner Cable worth a reported $7 billion.
"It's going to take that kind of revenue and those kinds of opportunities to be able to [keep the core together]," Riley said. "It is doable, but it's a question of the economics of the game. There's going to have to be some strategic planning not only from [the business] standpoint, but also personnel-wise over the next couple of years to deal with [the potential tax penalties]."
Friday was Riley's first official news conference since last July, when the team introduced new signees Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, but the former Heat coach said at the team's Family Fest last week that he envisioned a similar dynasty for this Miami team as the Bulls, Celtics and Lakers dynasties of the past.
"When you have an opportunity to build a team like this, you take a look at the four or five teams that endured over eight or nine or 10 years, they did it with the same players," Riley said. "It would be a shame if you couldn't do that."
But Riley admitted the economics of the game will make it much tougher to assemble a dynasty.
"I would love to see all of [the current Heat players] end their careers together here at the same time and hang their numbers, all of the players become the godfathers to each other's children and have one big, happy barbecue in the backyard somewhere. I would love to see that," Riley said. "But I don't know if that's reality in today's game."
When asked a follow-up question about the Heat's ability to retain Miami's Big Three, Riley maintained it isn't his call.
"Again, I'm going to defer that question to Micky because it's going to be a big decision," Riley said. "It is something that's going to take some thought.
"We don't, as an organization, really agree with all the aspects of the collective bargaining agreement. But [Arison)] was, I think, a proponent of it even though he knew it was going to hurt his team at the time because he was trying to do something that was good for everybody. He wasn't always fighting for what was going to be best for him. He did what he thought was right for the league."
That might be a little bit of revisionist history on Riley's part. Arison voted against ratifying the NBA's new CBA in 2010, along with four other owners, citing the revenue-sharing structure that would require the Heat to pay larger-market teams to do business. The Heat only rank middle of the pack in terms of TV market size.
But James, Wade and Bosh aren't the only Heat personnel who can be free agents after 2013-14. Heat coach and Riley protégé Erik Spoelstra has one more year remaining on his contract. After watching Spoelstra lead his team to a franchise-record 66 wins this season, Riley did not comment on Spoelstra's contract status.
He did, however, endorse Spoelstra for NBA Coach of the Year.
"Obviously, I'm biased," Riley said. "I think he deserves that. Don't penalize him because he has a great team. If he's deserving, he should get it."
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