MIAMI - Pat Riley vowed months ago to demand a bigger commitment from the Miami Heat this coming season. And he didn't just mean from the players, either.
Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley laughs as he speaks to the media in Miami in this Feb. 13, 2007 file photo in Miami. Riley said Monday he'll be back as coach of the Heat for three more seasons, an announcement that ends months of speculation about his immediate future. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Riley said Monday that he plans to coach the Heat for the three remaining years on his contract, an announcement that ends months of speculation about his immediate future. He'll remain in the dual role of team president as well.
"I will coach those out," Riley said. "I will try to coach those out, unless somebody else makes a decision on me. That's a commitment that I want to make to the organization."
The 62-year-old Riley gave up coaching in 2003, then returned two years later — when Stan Van Gundy stepped down in December 2005 — and led Miami to the 2006 NBA title. But the Heat were swept out of this past season's playoffs by the Chicago Bulls, and Riley was noncommittal for months about whether he'd remain on the sideline.
But after discussions with his family, Riley is staying put.
"We finally have come to the decision that this is what I love doing," Riley said. "It also works best for us right now and so I'm just going to keep moving forward with it."
The announcement means Riley will coach through the 2009-10 season — matching the length of Shaquille O'Neal's contract with Miami. Dwyane Wade, the 2006 finals MVP, can also opt out of his contract following that season.
"We hope that over the next three years ... that we're going to be a contender," Riley said. "And then after that, we'll re-evaluate the whole situation."
Riley's 1,195 regular-season victories trail only Lenny Wilkens (1,332) and Don Nelson (1,232) in NBA history. Only two men — Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach — have led more teams to NBA championships than Riley, whose title with the Heat in 2006 was his fifth as a head coach.
His decision to return for the upcoming season wasn't unexpected, at least among players. O'Neal and Wade both recently said they believed their coach was coming back, and longtime Heat center Alonzo Mourning — who is entering his final season — publicly implored Riley to return last month.
"He has to come back and be a part of my last year. He has to do that," Mourning said on the night he announced that 2007-08 would be his farewell. "It's only appropriate. We started together and hopefully we can end it together on a positive note."
The Heat have been spending the offseason trying to ensure that happens.
It's been a not-very-eventful summer for Miami, which tried to lure point guard Mo Williams from Milwaukee but fell $20 million shy of what the Bucks could pay him to re-sign there. The Heat did sign point guard Smush Parker — he'll vie with Jason Williams for the starting spot — along with veteran Penny Hardaway, and remain in discussions about bringing free agent James Posey back or acquiring restricted free agent Mickael Pietrus from Golden State.
Meanwhile, other teams in the Eastern Conference — Boston, especially, with the addition of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett — have made significant moves with hopes of contending for a title.
"I understand all the prognosticators who are saying we're taking a step back while everybody else is taking a step forward," Riley said. "There are a couple of teams in the East who have gotten some good players, but they gave up a tremendous amount of assets to get them."
The Heat probably aren't capable of pulling off a Boston-esque blockbuster this summer, but Riley still believes they can get better and deeper before training camp.
"We will continue to look," Riley said. "We're not finished. We're not finished, by any stretch of the imagination, trying to improve the team."
Notes:@ Riley said he still doesn't know if guard Gary Payton — who renewed vows with his wife this summer, getting three cases of Cristal champagne from the coach as a gift — will be back in the NBA next season, in Miami or otherwise. "I just want to have a conversation with him," Riley said. ... The Heat offered Eddie Jones the same deal Dallas did — roughly $1.8 million for each of the next two years — before the Mavericks signed the swingman last week.