The Heat have endured a wild ride with their current roster. James has fallen slightly off his MVP pace from previous seasons and Wade has missed 23 games this season, primarily as a cautionary measure to protect his balky knees. There have been 19 different starting lineups and the team still doesn't have a strong feel for what offseason acquisitions Michael Beasley or Greg Oden might provide in the playoffs. And Miami is relying heavily on veterans in their mid-to-late 30s -- Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen -- to bolster the bench.
Yet the Heat have pushed through it all, moving into first place in the East with nine games left in the regular season.
Riley's confidence in his roster has withstood some frustrating and inconsistent stretches this season. The Heat president started his career coaching Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy to four titles over the span of nearly a decade in the 1980s. Now Riley, who turned 69 last month, has visions of a perfect bookend to his decorated career.
The goal is to retool the Heat's roster around James, Wade and Bosh to keep them together and in title contention for another handful of years and produce another dynastic decade. Despite difficult financial decisions looming amid a more punitive luxury tax set to kick in this offseason, Riley hopes to rely on three franchise pillars that have kept the Heat proactive and productive all these years. It starts with stability.
Riley believes he still works for a team owner in Micky Arison who remains as committed to winning and producing an elite product now as he was when they first met 19 years ago. Securing James in 2010 was the most recent splash, but Riley points out that Arison has been willing to create waves for decades. The process began in 1995 when, just two months after Riley was hired, Arison signed off on a trade that brought in Alonzo Mourning and later led to deals for P.J. Brown, Juwan Howard, Tim Hardaway and Dan Majerle. Riley said what the Heat pulled off in the summer of 2010 was similar to what they initially had visions of doing over a nine-month span in the mid-1990s before the NBA voided Howard's contract.
"Ever since I came here, and Micky and I hooked up, the whole concept was you wanted to win," Riley said. "He really wanted to win and wanted to put on a great show and have a great product. Right off the bat, right out of the blocks, we were able to trade for Alonzo. Then the league took Juwan away. But Micky has always been one that tactically and with great thought, weighing all the pros and cons, has swung for the fences. And I have too."
Ten years later, Arison and Riley saw their next major makeover blossom into the franchise's first championship team when Wade, then in his third year, and Shaquille O'Neal led the Heat past Dallas in six games to win the 2006 NBA Finals.
It was immediately after that title when Riley began planning for their current championship reality.
While many believe James, Wade and Bosh -- three of the top five picks in the 2003 draft -- began plotting their course to eventually becoming teammates during their time together in the 2008 Olympics, Riley already had planted his own seed the day Wade signed his first major extension in 2006.