As Pat Riley summed up his team’s ride through the 2021-22 NBA season, the thrust Monday at FTX Arena from the Miami Heat president was of his players being better versions of themselves going forward.
He spoke of Tyler Herro needing strides on the defensive end, Bam Adebayo being more aggressive on the offensive end, of Duncan Robinson and Max Strus not settling for being solely 3-point shooters, of Omer Yurtseven putting in another summer of growth.
For others, such as Jimmy Butler and PJ Tucker, it was about staying true to what they delivered in the team’s run within one game of the NBA Finals.
And then there were his thoughts about veteran point guard Kyle Lowry, last summer’s prime offseason addition, and how the 36-year-old former All-Star limped to the finish with a strained hamstring, never quite in the type of conditioning Riley has stressed during his 27-season stewardship of the franchise.
“I do think that he can be in better shape next year,” Riley said not necessarily in a tone of admonishment, but more in the voice of setting an action plan. “We’ll address it and we’ll try to help him as best as we can. Because it’s not easy, when you get a little bit older.”
In many ways, the Heat hitched their short-term salary-cap future to Lowry with their three-year, $85 million free-agency offer in the August sign-and-trade agreement with the Toronto Raptors that sent out Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa .
Now the Heat have Lowry on the books for $28.3 million next season and $29.7 million in 2023-24, all fully guaranteed.
Playing largely as a facilitator during the regular season, Lowry helped lift the Heat to the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. But three games into the playoffs, he strained his left hamstring, scoring six or fewer points in four of his seven remaining postseason appearances.
“It’s not easy, when you get a little bit older,” Riley said.
Riley started by first noting the challenges of the seasonincluding adjusting to a core largely intact from the previous season, as well as 13 games missed at midseason due to a family emergency.
“Kyle had a challenging year for a lot of reasons, and I don’t have to get into ’em,” Riley said. “They’re personal. They’re other things. But he had a challenging year with the move and everything, and earlier in the season he had some injuries, missed some time. There were some personal issues.
“But, look it, the bottom line with me and for me, as far as hoping that you can get the most out of the player, and I don’t have to go back and talk about it, is that you’ve got to be in world-class shape. You just have to be. And that is something, as you get older, there is a point of diminishing return as you get a little bit older. When you’re younger, you can do things in spite of that. I’m not saying that when he was younger he wasn’t in the kind of condition that he was in this year.”
A week earlier, in summing up his team’s season, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “I think Kyle will come back in the next training camp in the best shape of his career.”
Monday, Riley said he appreciated that Lowry’s solid build is what has allowed him to thrive defensively with his 6-foot frame, and why that has to be taken into account, as well.
“Because he plays the game in a manner where he needs his strength and his size,” Riley said. “He’s not Tyler Herro. He’s not that lean kind of guy. But I think he can be in better shape. And I do believe that the pain of losing and the reminders that you send out about this might change his mind his a little bit.”
Riley said dedication certainly is not an issue, but he did pause to address how Lowry said in his final media session of the season, “For me, honestly it was a waste of a year. I only play to win championships.”
“Contrary to what he says,” Riley said, “I don’t think it was a wasted year. He said it was a wasted year. I’ve had that feeling myself, as a coach, when you’ve done as much as you can do, then you’re sort of like it was championship or bust for Kyle. He came here with that notion and he’s very, very disappointed in the fact that we couldn’t get to the Finals and win it. So he’ll do whatever he has to do, I think.”