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Pat Riley on LeBron James leaving: ‘I went into it with the notion he was coming back’


After a few weeks of contemplation, reflection and perhaps some licking of wounds — although he would never admit to the last one — Miami Heat president Pat Riley spoke at length for the first time since the departure of LeBron James. During a 40-minute conference call with the media on Wednesday, Riley talked at length about James and how he feels good about the team’s roster despite the superstar’s decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

When asked in hindsight if he believed now that the forceful challenge he issued to James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was a miscalculation, Riley said no.

“My message that day was borne out of just getting beat against a great team by a total of 70 points in five games,” Riley said. “We got our (expletives) handed to us. I was upset, and you should get upset. That’s sort of how I reacted. It wasn’t about making any direct comment to one player because everybody on our team was a free agent at that time, or about ready to become free agents.”

Following the Heat’s savage beat down at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, a “pissed” Riley went full frontal on the Big Three, challenging them to return and take care of unfinished business if they’ve “got the guts.”

Whether it was a motivational gambit best left undone or not, Riley conceded that losing a player of LeBron’s caliber undoubtedly stings, but argued that despite the setback, the Heat’s roster has been successfully rebuilt.

“No doubt we lost a great player,” Riley said of the player that led the Heat to two NBA titles. “I don’t get hurt. … The hurt didn’t last long. We picked up the phone and went to work. Sometimes, things happen that you don’t like, but you have to move on. I feel really good about where we are right now at this moment. I feel we are up to the challenge and will be as competitive as anyone in the Eastern Conference.”

The Heat president appeared to give the indication that he never at any time during James’ brief time as a free agent was he under the impression that LeBron would be taking his talents away from South Beach. In fact, Riley admits to selling LeBron as a teammate when making pitches to players.

“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.'”

The Heat and Riley nevertheless pressed on following the understandably devastating news that James would not be back. Part of the rebuilding process on the fly included signing Bosh to a five-year, $118 million and keeping Wade a “HeatLifer” by inking the longtime franchise standout to a two-year, $31 million deal.

Those moves were all part of a $215 million free agency spending spree that involved keeping Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen in the fold and adding Danny Granger, Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng.

With all those moves, Riley, despite losing the best basketball player on the planet, feels pretty good about things and is looking forward to the future, not dwelling on the past. In fact, he says the events of the past few weeks have re-energized him.

“It’s fired me up,” he said. “I don’t like to get beat in anything.”