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Bulpett: Pat Riley kidding himself with talk of ‘fast’ rebuild

December 31, 2016 GMT

The Heat showed up at the Garden last night with six losses in their last seven games and a 10-23 record — and a strategic bit of delusion on the part of their president.

Oh, Pat Riley was certainly speaking the truth when he acknowledged last week on a Miami radio show that circumstances had conspired to make his club an unabashed rebuilding project. But his line of thinking was more than a little wishful when he said the Heat would accomplish the feat quickly.

We’re not sure if Danny Ainge heard about the quotes or read them, but we’re willing to bet cash money that he snort-laughed his Chipotle order through his nostrils if he did.

It’s cool to state your plans with conviction, but no doubt Riley is aware of all the obstacles in the way of a speedy reload. More likely, he chose his words in hopes they will buoy the local ticket buyers and reach the brain of prospective free agents who might look at the Miami record and want to avoid getting into a bad situation. Ah, but if Pat be nimble and Pat be quick, perhaps it’s worth signing on with the Heatians.

You just know Riley had measured and prepared his remarks when he said on the show, “We’re dealing with that word that you hate to use, that we have to rebuild. But we will rebuild quick. I’m not going to hang around here for three or four years selling this kind of song to people in Miami. We have great, great fans. They’re frustrated. They’ve been used to something great over the last 10 years and so right now we’re taking a hit.

“I think we can turn this thing around. You can use that word rebuild. But we’re going to do it fast.”

The hard reality of big digs in the NBA is that they require good fortune. The Celtics don’t win the championship in 2008 if Minnesota ownership doesn’t insist that Kevin Garnett be traded in the summer of 2007. And the Heat don’t win their last two titles if LeBron James and Chris Bosh don’t leave their previous bands and decide to form a supergroup with Dwyane Wade in 2010.

Ainge has done what is widely accepted around the league to be an incredible job of positioning the Celts for upward mobility after taking the wrecking ball to the roster in 2013 — and three and a half years later he’s still trying to make the move or three that will make the Bostonians contenders again.

“It’s a competitive league, and everybody wants to be that last team (standing),” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before taking on the Celts last night. “But who has a coherent plan? Who’s committed to that plan? Who’s disciplined to that plan when there’s a lot of noise and not necessarily getting the results you want?

“We’re able to see great promise, hope and progress with this team, and if you know anything about our organization, we have a plan.

“You can see from the outside, Boston had a plan and they’ve methodically built that pretty consistently to an identity that they want. But it also shows you that getting to that final step is the hardest thing to do in this league.”

Riley knows this, too. But words can matter, which is why he chose to be bold.

Meanwhile, Spoelstra wasn’t sure of the authorized syllables last night.

“Did he use ‘rebuild?’ ” the coach asked when Riley’s comments were mentioned. “’Retool,’ maybe?”

Assured that Pat had used the first “r” word, Spoelstra said, “OK. I don’t use the word, ‘rebuild.’ We’re developing this team. Look, it’s easy for me to step back and have perspective. I am humbled and absolutely grateful to be coaching in this profession, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be with the Miami Heat long enough to understand that we’re always trying to put together a team that will compete for an NBA title.

“I think this is my 22nd year with the Heat. We’ve been to the Finals five times and (won) three championships. So what about all those other years? There’s a lot of other years that you’re not winning it. You’re not the last team. Or you’re not where you want to be. But ultimately this is the profession that I’m grateful and humbled to be a part of, and more importantly to be a part of this organization that has those kind of expectations and standards every year.

“So whatever word you want to use, we’ve had to do it before several times — retool, rebuild — and we’ve done it quicker than most.”

Which is all well and good, but isn’t it a bit crazy to expect that it’s going to happen “fast”?

“Hey,” said Spoelstra, “that’s what I love about working for Pat and this organization is working for somebody who believes in that type of vision and the track record that we’ve been able to do it. But it starts with a belief and having a visionary that’s going to push that. Nothing’s guaranteed, but, you know, being involved in that hunt is the most exhilarating thing.”

And for a team that has come to grips with what it is not, the exhilaration will gain a few RPM on the night of the draft lottery. And next to the Heat in the lottery room will be a representative of the Celtics hoping the Nets’ pick bears greater fruit and speeds the Boston construction project.

Yeah, it’s hard to be certain of rebuilding timelines when table tennis balls are involved.