"I went into it with the notion he was coming back, so I was selling that to players," Riley said Wednesday. "I let him know that. He never said, 'Don't do that.' "
Addressing questions from reporters for the first time since James opted to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four successful seasons in Miami, Riley reiterated throughout a 40-minute conference call that he's confident the Heat will remain a top competitor in the East without the four-time league MVP.
James led the Heat to four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and championships in 2012 and 2013, but decided to walk away after Miami suffered a lopsided loss to San Antonio in five games during the Finals last month. Riley said he expected James to return to Miami after James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all opted out of the final two years of their contracts to enter free agency.
At the same time, Riley said he never felt he was misled by James during the free-agency process but also suggested he was never discouraged by James or his representatives in the days leading to James announcing in a Sports Illustrated essay that he was going back to Cleveland.
James signed a two-year contract worth $42 million with the Cavaliers, a deal that gives him the option to enter free agency again after next season. It was essentially the same contract terms he had remaining on his deal with the Heat.
The Heat are scheduled to face James and the Cavaliers for the first time in a Oct. 11 preseason game in Brazil as part of the NBA Global Games.
Prior to Wednesday, Riley and Heat owner Micky Arison had only addressed James' departure and the team's plans to move forward in prepared statements that were released by the team or through social media. Riley spoke with reporters Wednesday after the team officially re-signed Bosh to a five-year, $118 million contract that positions him as James' replacement as the anchor of the franchise.
Bosh agreed in principle to the five-year, $118 million contract on July 11, just hours after James informed Miami he was headed to Cleveland. But the Heat officially announced the deal Wednesday after Bosh returned from a month of international travel that included stops in Africa and Europe.
Riley moved quickly to regroup after James' stunning departure by securing agreements to retain the two other members of the Heat's Big Three in Bosh and Wade, who signed a two-year, $31 million deal two weeks ago. Those deals were part of a flurry of moves by the Heat that totaled about $215 million in free-agency spending and included the additions of Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger as well as the bringing back of Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen.