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NBA AM: Pat Riley’s Burden, Rebuilding the HEAT

A former HEAT player marvels at the job Pat Riley did last summer to keep Miami afloat post-LeBron James.

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Can Pat Riley Get Miami Back to the Top?

The Miami HEAT (22-30) are currently clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Heading into the All-Star break, the team has lost six of their past 10 games and numerous injuries to All-Star guard Dwyane Wade has placed a huge question on whether the team can weather the storm down the stretch.

Milwaukee and Charlotte currently hold the sixth and seventh spots in the East, respectively, but the hope surrounding those franchises is much different heading into the break.

The Bucks won only 15 games a season ago and now sit with 30 victories despite a rash of injuries to numerous core pieces. The Hornets started the season on a horrific run, but have rebounded despite enduring multiple injuries of their own.

But for Miami, an organization coming off four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals, there is nothing glorious about their current predicament as a sub .500 squad scratching and clawing just for the right to play into May.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Dorell Wright, who was drafted in the first round by Miami back in 2004, says he has been keeping an eye on the HEAT and how they’ve battled adversity this season. Wright says if there’s a guy who can turn the HEAT around quickly, it’s team president Pat Riley.

“Pat Riley might be one of the most brilliant people I have ever met,” Wright told Basketball Insiders about Riley’s basketball mind. “The fact he goes and finds guys that are willing to put it on the line each and every night. You have to be nasty to play in that organization, for that organization. I mean nasty in a good way. To play for him you have to have a mental toughness like no other and that’s something he taught me coming out of high school being so young.”

Obviously, the loss of four-time league MVP LeBron James in free agency last summer is the primary driver in Miami’s steady decline in the league’s hierarchy. James’ departure sent Riley scrambling on a scavenger hunt to recover from the defection during the latter stages of free agency. The team was able retain center Chris Bosh and Wade to long-term deals, while also netting former All-Star Luol Deng in the process.

The results have been about as good as you could expect with limited cap room and losing a player as dominant as James unexpectedly.

Wright feels the HEAT’s struggles won’t remain long-term and that Riley is set to work more magic to put the club back into the championship chase.

“I think the team is going to shape back up to being a championship-caliber team,” Wright said. “It’s just going to take some time. Losing the best player in the world, it’s not going to happen overnight where you can drastically improve a team in that situation.

“So they will have their struggles here and there, but the HEAT still have two All-Stars, a great organization and coaching staff. I fully anticipate Pat getting the HEAT back to where they need to be.”

The HEAT return to action February 20 at New York.

Knicks to Shut Down Anthony After All-Star Break?

From an on-court perspective, things are not going well for the New York Knicks this season. The Knicks (10-43) own the worst record in the league heading into the All-Star break and star forward Carmelo Anthony has been hobbled by a troublesome knee injury.

But that’s on the court.

In terms of positives for the future, the team has just $32 million in guaranteed salary on the books for next season, which will make the franchise prime players in the upcoming free agency market. Plus, the team is headed to the draft lottery where they could potentially land an impact player to aid in their rebuilding plan.

However, for the time being, the team is mired in mediocrity and Anthony admits he will likely shut it down for the rest of the season after this year’s All-Star festivities conclude to rehab his injured knee.

“It’s very likely. It’s very likely. Now I’ve got to start thinking about the future,” Anthony told Marc Stein, Marc Kestecher and P.J. Carlesimo in an interview on ESPN Radio. “This season is this season. So I really want to just sit down with my team and sit down with the proper people to just kind of plan this thing out and see exactly what I have to do to get done and just to fix it.”

Anthony makes it clear that the Knicks’ front office will have its work cut out this summer trying to build a winner and maintains that he’ll do his job to help recruit marquee players to the Big Apple.

“The fate is in the front office now,” Anthony said. “As players the only thing we can do is go out and try to compete on a nightly basis and try to get wins and try to get better. But I think the onus is on the front office and they’ve got a task ahead of them to start building for now and for the future.

“I can relate to these guys. I compete against them. I know what it takes to play in New York. I know who can handle New York and who can’t handle New York. … If I’m coming to you, that means I really want you to come over here and join forces with me.”

The Knicks return to action at home versus Miami on February 20.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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