A flight was awaiting Miami Heat President Pat Riley on Saturday, just as he hoped.
It just wasn't to Toronto or Milwaukee for Game 1 of a playoff series. That's the problem.
Riley's second home in Malibu, California, is one of his happy places — though with the NBA playoffs starting this weekend, Malibu is about the last place he wants to be right now. The playoffs aren't on Riley's calendar this season, so he's taking 10 blue notebooks to Malibu and plans to fill them with ideas on how to make sure that's not the case in 2020.
"I'm going to write and write and write and write," Riley said. "That's where we are for the next couple of weeks. Once the hangover subsides, then we'll have more coherent thought."
A challenging offseason awaits the Heat, who went 39-43 this season and will return for training camp in about five months without Dwyane Wade — probably their best player this season, and at times certainly their most important player. Wade is retiring, and if the Heat have plans to remake their roster before next season they'll likely need some willing trade partners to make things happen.
Miami already has players signed to about $140 million worth of deals for next season. Flexibility is not something Riley figures to have much of when its time to wheel and deal on the trade and free-agent markets.
"Very, very disappointed. I'm disappointed in myself. Obviously," Riley said Saturday, as he sat alone on a stage set up on the Heat practice court — one that figures to not be in much use for the next couple weeks while players rest and recover. "This has not come together the way that I thought it would. I thought this year that we would be in the top half of the Eastern Conference."
The Heat finished 10th in the East. They beat 13 of the 16 playoff-bound teams — the only ones who swept Miami were Denver (2-0), Indiana (3-0) and Toronto (4-0). But the Heat also lost at least once to nine of the 13 other teams that didn't make the playoffs — going 1-3 against Atlanta, plus 0-2 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves.
"There's going to be changes next year," Riley said. "Not a new culture, but tightening the screws on a culture that sometimes erodes just a little bit."
Riley said the team is a long way from personnel decisions and draft strategy. The Heat want Dion Waiters slimmer and believe his game would explode if he got into world-class condition. They're still — in what seems like an annual occurrence now — figuring out how best to use Hassan Whiteside, who has a $27.1 million player option for next season. They believe James Johnson will be better. They hope Udonis Haslem returns for a 17th season.
But one thing that Riley knows must change is the home record. Miami was awful at home this year, going 19-22. Only five teams were worse, and Riley was bothered by the Heat penchant for getting big leads and then letting them slip away.
"The last thing I want to do is send our fans into the beautiful night of Miami, cheering like crazy in the first half with a 20-point lead and leaving with a one-point loss," Riley said.