Posted: Monday December 12, 2005 3:12PM; Updated: Monday December 12, 2005 3:14PM
Shaquille O'Neal can expect to see a lot more of the ball on offense with Pat Riley stepping in as coach for Stan Van Gundy.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Pat Riley, Stan Van Gundy and owner Micky Arison will never be able to completely sell the idea that Van Gundy resigned as the Miami Heat coach because he wanted to spend more time with his family. First, that is rarely the sole reason in sports -- Michael Jordan and countless others have said the same thing. Second, there has simply been too much previous speculation that Riley was waiting in the wings for the right moment to jettison Van Gundy and take over himself.
For the record, I absolutely buy Van Gundy's sentiments about wanting to be more of a family man. Those who know him say that he is a dedicated and proud father whose four children are all active and whose games, concerts and school events he was tired of missing. But I also think that this was part of his thought process : I'm getting out before they get me ... because they are going to get me eventually. So, I believe it was a resignation, albeit one with a back story.
Anyway, the question now is: How will the Heat be different under Riley, who is unquestionably one of the game's greatest coaches? Here's an early five-pack of reasons:
1. There will be more structure to the Heat offense.
The Heat wasn't exactly a free-wheeling bunch under Van Gundy, but now you will see point guards Jason Williams and Gary Payton, and even shooting guard Dwyane Wade, looking over at the bench to get play calls a lot more than they did before.
2. The Heat may be a little less prepared for some teams and prone to getting upset.
Having come from that classic assistant-coach background, Van Gundy was a stickler for preparation. And for all his genius on the bench, Riley has been away from the day-to-day changes in the game. While Riley catches up, SVG's knowledge will be missed.
3. There will be more feeding of the post.
First, that's what Riley did when he won championships in Los Angeles (with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and turned the New York Knicks (with Patrick Ewing) into a title contender. And, second, he'll want to keep his principal locker room ally, center Shaquille O'Neal, happy.
4. Miami will have a healthier locker room ... at least for now.
The veteran Heat politicians (Shaq, Payton, Alonzo Mourning) hadn't exactly thrown Van Gundy under the bus. But there were enough grumblings to indicate that he was being tuned out from time to time. The players had always referred to Riley as "Coach," which they say was a sign of respect; maybe so, but it's telling. In Heat Land, Riley was always perceived as Top Dog, and guys like Shaq only want to answer to the Top Dog.
5. The Heat will have more presence.
That's hard to define, of course, but Stan Van Gundy, an outstanding coach, is still SVG and Pat Riley is PAT RILEY! He may get more calls from the refs, particularly the ones whom he has not alienated over the years. The Heat will get more attention. There will be more cameras and microphones around, more buzz. How Miami responds to it remains to be seen, but keep this in mind: With Riley on the sideline, they are still not better than the Detroit Pistons. That is Van Gundy's legacy; perhaps it will be Riley's too.