Miami Heat coach Pat Riley has realized he's no miracle worker. Even his presence and the addition of Alonzo Mourning have not been able to turn around a Miami team that was a disappointing 24-29 before last night's game against the Chicago Bulls.
So Riley continued his housecleaning Thursday in trades with the Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. That will put the Heat in a nice position to pursue some of what is the best crop of free agents ever available.
Former Maryland star Walt Williams, Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatling, Tyrone Corbin and Tony Smith are in. Kevin Willis, Billy Owens, Bimbo Coles, Kevin Gamble and Terrance Rencher are out.
If the Heat chooses not to re-sign any of its unrestricted free agents at the end of the season -- and if Williams exercises an escape clause in his contract -- the team will have $13 million to make moves, with its sights set on free agents Juwan Howard, Gary Payton and Reggie Miller.
"Sometimes you have to go out on a limb and take some risks," Riley said. "These are really trades where, obviously, flexibility and opportunity transcended everything."
The Heat will, obviously, re-sign Mourning, who becomes a free agent. The only players under contract at season's end will be Keith Askins (the only player left from the roster on the final day of last season), Sasha Danilovic and Kurt Thomas.
After a strong start, Riley didn't feel the team had made strides to become a serious contender. Hardaway spent the last season and a half feuding with teammates and coaches in Golden State (several weeks ago he reportedly stood at center court, pouting, while the team practiced around him), and lost his starting job to B. J. Armstrong. Hardaway could help the Heat if he can regain some of his old cross-over flair.
"We feel we have a very deep team, a very versatile team that we can develop -- at least for this year," Riley said. "Our record is 13-26 since our good start, 9-17 since Jan. 8th -- and with those results you've got to make some decisions."
Glad to go
Christian Laettner always has been outspoken. And his mouth may have earned him a trip out of Minnesota.
Laettner offered criticism of the Timberwolves' prized rookie, Kevin Garnett, and even his own play after Minnesota lost to the Washington Bullets on Sunday. On Thursday, Laettner and Sean Rooks were dealt to the Atlanta Hawks for Andrew Lang and Spud Webb.
Leaving a team that is 15-36 to go to a playoff contender is appealing to Laettner.
"I haven't experienced consistent winning since I came to the nTC NBA. I want to feel that," he said after the trade. "I haven't forgotten what it was like . . . four coaches in four years in Minnesota. Now I can say I have my first real coach. I just want to fit in and experience winning. I can barely say 'over .500.' "
The move actually will have Laettner playing for a coach who likes him. Atlanta's Lenny Wilkens was an assistant on the first Dream Team, of which Laettner was a member.
"He's totally misunderstood," Wilkens said about Laettner last season. "He's a great kid. The thing with him is he wants to win so badly he's frustrated."
Wilkens, the all-time winningest coach, needs four more to become the first with 1,000 victories.
Quote of the Week
Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley who, at 6 feet 4 1/2 , became the shortest player to grab 10,000 career rebounds:
"I've played with a lot of tall players who couldn't play. [Teammate] Joe Kleine comes to mind."