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2 posts from July 30, 2014

July 30, 2014

Riley opens up: Said he is shocked over LeBron leaving, said it has fired him up, much more; 15 Dolphins notes

A few minutes ago, Pat Riley spoke to seven reporters, including myself, in his first public comments since LeBron James left for Cleveland.

Here's most of everything he had to say:

 ### On LeBron’s departure: "Like Micky [Arison] said, both of us were shocked, but you recover. I don’t want to go back in history, but after 45 years, I think I’ve been around at least 15 transcendent players that have walked out the door – either left the team, retired, got traded, went somewhere else and you move on. We were shocked, but we recovered. People in this country have the right to do what they want to do. He wanted to go home. In our statements, we respected that. It was a tough blow."

### DId Riley feel like he was misled? "No. I don't think I was encouraged either. That's this business. They were free agents."

He said he reached out to LeBron through texts and emails throughout the free agent process but didn't get a response, though he obviously did get the meeting in Las Vegas two days before LeBron announced he was leaving for Cleveland. "I sent him a lot of emails and texts. I was communicating a lot with him. No response."

### On his late-June press conference encouraging players not to run out the door, he said he wasn't thinking at the time that LeBron would leave. "I wasn’t thinking that at all. My message that day was born out of just getting beat by a great team by 70 points in five games. We got our ass handed to us. You know how I react when things don’t go well. I get upset. We all get upset. That’s how I was after the particular loss. It wasn’t about making a direct comment to any one player because everyone on our team was a free agent or ready to become a free agent except Norris Cole. My message was we are going to come stronger than ever."

### Riley declined to say if he knew – when he met with LeBron in Las Vegas - that LeBron had met with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert four days earlier.

"There wasn’t anything in that meeting that told me that wasn’t going to happen [that LeBron was going to leave]. I’ve moved on quickly from that. We are going to build another championship team and that’s it. This business, as we find it, is tough. Sometimes you have those tough calls and sometimes things happen to you that you don’t like but you’ve got to move on."

### Riley said he went into free agency "with the thought he was coming back. I was selling that to players.”

He told LeBron before free agency he would tell players that. “He never said to me, No don’t do that. I went in with that premise and found out on the 10th [that wasn’t going to happen]. We were both very shocked when he did not come back. I was thinking all along he would come back.”

### Is he hurt by LeBron leaving? "I don’t get hurt. Very rarely do I get hurt. My wife will hurt me. My daughter might hurt me. You have an instinct about certain things. As soon as something happens, I had to react and we did. The hurt didn’t last very long."

### Can Riley see himself going through this in 2016 when the Heat has ample camp space?

"Yes, I can. It has fired me up. I don’t like to get beat at anything. I want this team to be as competitive as it has ever been. The team might not be as formidable from the social media standpoint as the team we had the last four years but a solid team that will be a great team to cover.

That process didn’t take anything out of me other than this one notion: Every [so often], you have a chance to build a generational team. You’re not going to win 10-12 years in a row. That chain has been broken prematurely. We are going to try to make it another generational team. That’s what my objective is."

### "There is no doubt we lost a great player" but he still expects to compete for a championship. "We’re not going to go in with this roster thinking there’s anything less than that. That’s how I am as a man."

### On Wade: "We are going to see where we are with him. With what he’s doing this summer and what he’s doing with his body and what he’s going to be doing with his conditioning, there is a possibility dwyane can return to what he was before he ceded a good part of his game to LeBron. And the same thing with Chris. A strong personality and strong player dictates a certain style of play that takes away from other great players. Dwyane and Chris sacrificed a lot. I think you will see both players probably have the best years they’ve had over the past four years."

### If LeBron had stayed, “we were always looking at 2016 as a possibility to be a player" in free agency, which the team will be now. "All of our players were aware of that. We always wanted a window in 2016.”

### Riley called Carmelo Anthony's agent after LeBron left but "that dance card had been punched. We were a little bit late to that party. I made a call but we were late in on that one." Anthony didn't resign with the Knicks until a couple days later.

### On giving Bosh a five-year, $118 million maximum contract: “Everything was off the table as soon as LeBron left. Whatever plans you may have had at that time, how you were going to negotiate with certain players was off the table. If something generated itself in two or three hours, you had to respond to that. He’s the most versatile big man in the NBA. That’s what the market was for him, and Micky stepped up to the plate, and we have a key, key component to this team. I’ll be damned if I was going to let him walk out the door and he didn’t want to either."

### On what he still needs to address: "The one area we want to shore up is another perimeter player who can swing between 2 and 3, maybe 2, 3, 4. We’re not in a rush now. Another wing man and also another big. We’ll be scanning the market."

"I always slot CB at the center spot, even though he plays across the board. Having Chris, Justin Hamilton at center, McRoberts and Haslem at 4, Deng, Ennis, Granger at 3. Wade, Cole, Chalmers, Napier."

### On Deng: “I truly believe if we were able to sign him that day [they met with him July 5, before LeBron left], he would have signed. He liked our team, competed against us for a long time. That discussion had to take a number of meandering rows. He knew we wanted him, would try to do whatever we could to get him.

At that time, when you took a look at our bottom line, we could have used all of our exceptions or gobbled up enough room to have maybe 10 or 11 million in cap space if you wanted to go that way."

### Why was Granger a priority? “I have been in this with players who have had injuries and had setbacks. It takes some time. He got caught up in a very awkward situation of coming back to a team where he really was the star [in Indiana].

"Three or fours years ago, think about the playoff series we had with Danny out there. Going through what he went through and then to come back, and having Paul George and Lance Stephenson be where they were. He has sort of been through the grinder. I have always liked him as a player. He’s a swing player, can play the four spot, can shoot from an outside, a good defender. It was low risk, high reward and he wanted to be here regardless of what the situation was.”

### On Josh McRoberts: “He flew under the radar a little bit. Last year was a breakthrough year for him. He’s a high motor guy. He’s a very high IQ from a basketball standpoint. He can shoot the basketball and he’s ultra competitive. The fact he led all stretch fours in assists and assist to turnover ratio. He can get three, four layups a game for some of our players on backdoor cuts. He can stretch the floor with a three. He’s an athletic guy, sort of a younger Chris Andersen that can do a few more things with the basketball. He felt he would be a great complement for Chris Andersen. When we go small, at times he plays the five."

### Except for LeBron, "all the guys wanted in here. Nobody tried to back out of this thing and tried to move somewhere else. For five or six hours, it was doing business as usual [when LeBron] left."

### Riley said "right now, we have not made any decisions" on Greg Oden. "He’s still on our board. We are going to give Greg some thought.”

### What about Michael Beasley? "Still a consideration. We talked to his people the other day."

### On Napier and whether LeBron's tweet praising him during the Final Four influenced the Heat drafting him: "The night of the draft, I said LeBron had good taste. We always liked him. We were not sure at that time, knowing Mario would be a free agent, whether we were going to be able to sign him back. We wanted to protect ourselves and we like him. He struggled this summer somewhat shooting the ball but we still feel he has a tremendous upside as a player. No truth to the fact that draft pick was made because of [LeBron’s] tweet.”

### Why give Chalmers two years and $8.3 million?

“We like him. Mario is a big game player. He learned more than ever in this series that you can never take anything for granted at this level of play when you’re playing championship caliber basketball. You’ve got to be in your best form and best mind. Sometimes, going to Finals four years in a year, you take it for granted....

"We’re looking at Mario differently in this roster. He’s a point guard but we’re also looking at him as a two. It’s big in this league, big for our coach. Mario can be very effective as a long armed 2 who can shoot the three. We are happy to have him back."

### The team we had over the last four years was a generational team. That generational team may have been disrupted temporarily. We have positioned ourselves not only temporarily to add players like Dwyane and Chris" in free agency in 2016.

"In 2016, there is going to be just about every team in the league is going to have more than $10 million in room. It tells how teams are positioning themselves for the future. The way the NBA is today, you always have to look ahead of the time at those possibilities. If you can and haven’t become roster matured with a great team, you want to be looking at that opportunities. We are going to be very competitive."

### He said Ray Allen's agent told him he "has not made a decision about anything. I’ve talked to his agent about a half dozen times." Allen has been considering retirement and the Heat can offer him only the $1.4 million minimum to re-sign.

### Riley opened with this: "To be able to put together and to get all the guys back we wanted and to add guys like Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng and Danny Granger and Shabazz Napier and James Ennis, I feel very good about where we are, with 12 guys under contract. We feel very good. Unlike a lot of the prognosticators, people who judge where we may be in the Eastern Conference, I feel that we are up to the challenge and going to be as competitive as anybody in the Eastern Conference. I feel great right now today making sure we have Chris signed and the core of our foundation and we’ll go from here."

### How competitive is the East? "Once the games begin to be played, we’ll find out. After 20 games, teams settle in and they usually are who they are going to be the rest of the year. There has been some change. Sometimes teams have a tendency to break through, get to a certain level and take a step back. If Derrick Rose is healthy, Chicago is going to be formidable. Is Cleveland going to be as good as everybody thinks they are? Nobody really knows. I am going to put my team in the mix with all those teams to be just as competitive."

### On James Ennis: "We see upside, athleticism, three—point shooting. He can stuff up the stat sheet. He can make six threes, get to the lane. Very athletic, high motor player. He needs a lot of work. He’s still really raw. For him to go to Australia was the best thing for him. Led the league in scoring, almost became the MVP. As we tracked him all year, we felt this was going to be a very good prospect.”

### Justin Hamilton's contract becomes partially guaranteed Aug. 1, and Riley said the Heat will keep him past that deadline.

### On James Jones going to Cleveland: "We wish him nothing but the best. He was a good soldier here the past six years.”

### Please see the last post for 15 Dolphins notes, quotes, tidbits and thoughts from Wednesday's practice, and another non-Riley Heat note.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz          

More Dolphins O-line changes; 15 notes, quotes, nuggets from camp; Wednesday Heat items

Please see below for a Heat schedule note from Wednesday.

Meanwhile, here are 15 items to chew on from Wednesday’s Dolphins practice:

### The Dolphins shook up their first-team offensive line, which is once again the team’s most worrisome position, during Wednesday’s practice after two more botched snaps from center Shelley Smith, giving him four over the past two days.

During the second half of team drills, Nate Garner replaced Smith with the first team at center, while rookie third-round pick Billy Turner replaced Dallas Thomas with the starters at right guard.

Meanwhile, Thomas got some work at right tackle, a position he played at times in practice last season.

Branden Albert is set at left tackle, while Daryn Colledge (left guard) and Ja’Wuan James (right tackle) are likely starters.

But the two other positions have proven problematic in light of Mike Pouncey’s hip surgery, which will force him to miss a chunk of the season.

Smith, who has never played center in an NFL game, has mishandled at least six snaps in five training camp practices. He lost his spot with the first team Wednesday after a low snap resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Isaaka Aaitui.

Smith said he wasn’t surprised he was replaced by Garner, who started two games at center last season and 19 games at various positions in his five seasons. But if the Dolphins determine Smith isn’t the answer at center, Smith would seem the logical starter at right guard.

### The Dolphins’ depth at center remains limited. Sam Brenner, who filled in for Pouncey at center during a practice in late June, missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury. The Dolphins hope he can return in a few days.

### Free agent Samson Satele, who auditioned for the Dolphins on June 30, remains on Miami’s radar and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Dolphins go back to him if the center situation worsens. But the Dolphins are still looking at internal options.

### Coach Joe Philbin said in March that it was important to determine Thomas’ best position and leave him there. That still hasn’t happened. Thomas already has played three positions in the past two months: both guard spots and now tackle.

“We’ll see if he looks that much more comfortable [at tackle],” Philbin said. “I doubt that will be the case but it could be. I told the staff I want to see some guys in some different spots.”

### Besides Brenner, Pouncey and Knowshon Moreno, Mike Wallace (hamstring injury) also missed practice.


### Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said Wednesday he wants improvement in the return game and also more consistency from second-year kicker Caleb Sturgis.

Rookie receiver Jarvis Landry and former Titans receiver Damian Williams are incumbent Marcus Thigpen’s top challengers for the punt and kickoff return jobs. A few rookies, besides Landry, are also in the mix, including former Oklahoma running back Damien Williams, who's battling for the kickoff return job.

“We put a depth chart up. Is [Thigpen] number one? Yes, because he has the most experience,” Rizzi said. “We will have other guys do it. We have a lot of options, a lot of competition. We have some insurance policies like Brent Grimes. There are probably more options on the roster for that job than we’ve we have had.”

In his second year as the Dolphins’ primary returner, Thigpen slipped to 19th in punt returns last season (7.8 average) and 18th in kickoff returns (22.5).

“We’ve got to get better in the return game as a whole. All 11 guys, not just the returner,” Rizzi said. “There were a lot of situations where our blocking could have been better. We got to get back to where we were in 2012, when we were top five in both categories.”

The Dolphins are eager to see Landry return punts and kickoffs in preseason games. “Obviously, the guy has good hands,” Rizzi said. “He has good judgment, very good athletic ability. The second step is can he do it with people around him, [with] gunners in his face?

“The question of whether he can do it in game time is going to be the biggest thing. He’s going to have some opportunities for sure [in preseason games]. He didn’t do it a lot in college [at LSU]. They had Odell Beckham doing it.”

### As for Sturgis, the Dolphins decided not to bring in another kicker to compete with him even though his 76.5 percent accuracy on field goals (26 of 34) ranked 29th of 32 kickers, ahead of only Houston’s Randy Bullock, New Orleans’ Garrett Hartley and Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski.

“He’s got to get more consistent,” Rizzi said. “He had that lapse in the middle of the year where he had a 1 for 5 spell. A kicker can’t be on a roller coaster ride. You go out there for one play and you’ve got to get it done. Bottom line.”

Though there isn’t another kicker on the roster, “the specialist world is a little different from everywhere else,” Rizzi said. “You don’t necessarily need a guy in camp to feel pressure. There is always competition. It may not be in the building. [But] I have a lot of confidence in Caleb Sturgis.”

Sturgis was 8 for 10 from 40 to 49 yards but just 3 for 7 on field goals of 50 yards or longer.

### The offense was sloppy during Wednesday’s practice, with far too many drops on catchable throws. Brian Hartline dropped two after he beat Jamar Taylor and scored on a 70-yard passing play from Ryan Tannehill. Even Jarvis Landry had his first drop of training camp. Armon Binns, Stephen Williams and Gator Hoskins were among others with drops.

Tannehill continued to mix the good with the bad. His TD strike to Hartline was perfectly thrown. He ran for 25 yards on a read option and his accuracy on intermediate routes in the middle of the field has been pretty good.

But he also threw an interception to Cortland Finnegan to end teams drills and threw an interception to Jamar Taylor when he underthrew Hartline on another bomb.

On another play, Tannehill waited too long to throw deep to Kevin Cone, thus allowing Taylor and Walt Aikens to successfully defend the play. Also, defensive linemen Jared Odrick and Cam Wake knocked down two of his passes Wednesday.

Give the Dolphins’ defensive backfield credit; they’ve made a lot of plays in this camp. And Tannehill hasn’t been awful. But we’re still waiting for the day that Tannehill is super impressive, without any poor decisions. It hasn’t happened yet through five days.

### The Dolphins want to continue making use of Dion Jordan on special teams when his four-game regular season suspension ends.

“Dion played 300 plays on special teams,” Rizzi said. “He was exceptional on the return team as a blocker.”

### Philbin, asked why he believes his run defense is better this year than last year, when the Dolphins were 24th in that category: “We’re getting more guys to the football. I’m excited about our defense. They look good so far. Randy Starks, I told the team I think he’s practicing better than I’ve seen him practice.

“Our front has a chance to be pretty good. The changes we made at linebacker. Louis Delmas plays fast. Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler – I like what they’re doing. Philip has really improved. Dannell, the benefit of being the mike, has quickened his transition to outside linebacker.”

### Speaking of defense… A couple of quick thoughts from defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle today: “We’ve got very good speed on defense…. I’m extremely pleased with how Koa Misi has progressed taking on the challenge of becoming the Mike backer in the defense. There’s very few guys I’ve ever been around that have worked as hard as he has to get ready….

"This is the deepest group I think we’ve had in all the positions, guys that as you go down the list have proven that they are capable of competing in the NFL… I think our young corners are really starting to come along.” Yes, lots of happy talk. But the defense has been sharp through five days. Adam Beasley will have more on the defense in a story to be posted later.

### Cam Wake was among several Dolphins who were wearing a T-shirt with slogans that were selected by the players. Among them: “I am a warrior and member of an unbeatable team… I will always place the team first… I will never quit. I am a professional…. I am a Miami Dolphin.”

Philbin said the idea was hatched during his meetings with players. “The great teams I’ve been around, the players take control of them,” Philbin said. “The best thing to do is to give them some ownership. They did a good job, gave some consideration to it.”

The T-shirt is not being sold to the public.

### Rookie fifth-round pick Walt Aikens, who started his career as a safety at Illinois and finished it as a cornerback at Liberty, has been playing both positions.

“You look at him and say, ‘Hmm.’ He kind of looks like a safety,’” Philbin said. “He’s going to continue to get work at both spots.”

### Philbin, on his running backs: “Lamar Miller – I like everything he’s done. Daniel Thomas – he’s had a solid camp so far.”

### Undrafted California rookie linebacker Chris McCain has made a mark so far, including an interception of a ball that Pat Devlin tried to throw away.

“Chris McCain has impressed with his athleticism,” linebackers coach Mark Duffner said. He’s got good quickness, pretty good awareness. He’s going to give us a lot of value with the versatility he presents.”

### Among others who impressed us Wednesday: Former Oklahoma running back Williams (has shown more recently than Mike Gillislee), Dion Sims (nice lunging catch from Tannehill); Dion Jordan (knocked down a pass from Matt Moore); and Taylor, who recovered from getting beat to make at least three very good plays on the ball, including the pick on Tannehill’s second deep-ball attempt.


No, the Heat won’t be showcased to the nation to the extent they were when LeBron James played here. But the networks aren’t going to ignore them either.

TNT wants to televise a Heat game during the first week of the season, and according to a league official, the tentative schedule includes a Washington-at-Heat game on Thursday, Oct. 30 on TNT --- two days after the season opens.

The person said there’s still a chance that game and other early-season games could change, so keep that in mind. But Turner wants to show the Heat early in the season. As we reported yesterday, Cleveland-Miami is also listed as a Christmas ABC game on a tentative league schedule.

The Heat-Wizards game, if it isn’t changed by the league, could be Miami’s first or second game. There’s a chance Miami could open on the road the night before, but that’s undetermined. 

### The Lakers worked out Michael Beasley today in Los Angeles, according to ESPN. The Heat has been non-committal with the free agent forward.

### The Marlins are aggressively pursuing a starting pitcher in a trade before Thursday night's trade deadline, and Fox said the Marlins might acquire Boston's John Lackey. But Herald colleague Clark Spencer reports there is no chance of that happening.

Brad Hand and Jacob Turner have pitched well in the fourth and fifth slots in the past couple weeks but the Marlins want a proven arm in their bid to earn a playoff spot.