Miami Heat president Pat Riley has watched the power of the NBA steadily shift to the Western Conference. The Golden State Warriors have reached three straight Finals, the San Antonio Spurs are consistently great and the Houston Rockets added Chris Paul in the summer.
And Riley wants the Heat to capitalize on the chance.
“We see an opportunity because there isn’t a Golden State in our conference or San Antonio or Houston,” he said, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. “We will take advantage if we can.”
The immediate reaction is probably consistent: Hey man, what about the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers?
His explanation, while reasonable, will not be unanimously accepted.
Riley acknowledged that the Celtics and Cavs are the East’s top clubs but pointed out their concerns entering the 2017-18 season.
Concerning the Celtics, he said the roster lost 10 of the 14 players who guided the franchise to a No. 1 finish in the East last season. Riley specified talent is not an issue, so the implication is that chemistry could be initially problematic — something he knows first-hand after watching LeBron James and Chris Bosh join Dwyane Wade in Miami.
Riley added he thought the Cavaliers lost “who I thought was next to Steph Curry, the best true point guard both ways in Kyrie Irving.” He commended Isaiah Thomas but said the All-Star’s injury is a worry.
Both franchises are bound for strong campaigns , but they don’t appear untouchable like the Warriors — or, as Riley suggested, potent like the Spurs and Rockets.
Optimism is high for Miami, which missed the postseason last year but finished the campaign on a scorching 31-10 run. Plus, the aftermath of the Paul George trade and Paul Millsap’s free agency means a pair of Eastern Conference playoff teams took a considerable step backward.
The West is a mess in the middle but established at the top. No middle-tier team will escape the conference. The East, on the other hand, has two favorites with questions to answer. That we can even entertain a team like the Heat sneaking through the bracket shows the difference.