In a season of low points, Tuesday”s loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks might have been the lowest for the Miami Heat. This is quite a statement considering Miami lost a game 95-56 earlier this season, but Tuesday”s loss was worse because three-straight wins had instilled confidence in the NBA”s most disappointing team, and just when it looked as though the Heat were starting to rally behind coach and team president Pat Riley, old habits resurfaced. The low point of the game was when a frustrated Riley was T-d up in the first quarter while his team looked lethargic, uninspired and out of sync.

Paul Wong
The SportsMonday Column<br><br>Raphael Goodstein

These attributes might have been accepted in Portland, but with All Star Alonzo Mourning manning the middle, Eddie Jones locking down opposing teams” best guard, and the team”s success that dated back to the mid “90s, Miami was supposed to be a contender in the weak Eastern conference.

But a pathetic 5-23 start ruined any hopes Miami fans had of making the playoffs, let alone making it to the NBA Finals. And while the squad rebounded, going on a 13-5 run to finish the first half of the season with an almost respectable 18-28 record, Riley ruined this team before the season even started when he publicly embarrassed popular point guard Tim Hardaway. On a team of stars, the five-time All Star had been Miami”s go-to player and Riley not only let Hardaway leave, but the coach publicly made it clear that he thought his popular point guard wasn”t capable of recovering from a knee injury.

The decision to allow Hardaway to leave was questioned by many, especially since most of his teammates liked him, he had been so successful as the team”s point guard and had successfully recovered from prior knee injuries.

Riley not only let Hardaway leave, but he also compounded this mistake when he looked indecisive in his recovery plan, originally signing Anthony Carter (not that Anthony Carter) to a three year, $12 million contract, only to then sign Rod Strickland, a free agent who attracted little attention from other teams because of his often childish behavior.

Both have struggled for large parts of the season.

Meanwhile Hardaway and the Dallas Mavericks are the third best team in the NBA, enjoy a 35-14 record and appear to be a presence for years to come.

All of this prompted Riley to recently admit his mistakes to which Hardaway responded with, “It”s too late. But admitting the mistake is a good thing. That”s a step in the right direction,” and later saying “You made your own bed, and now you have to sleep in it,” to Riley and Jerry Krause, operation chief of the Chicago Bulls, another team that considered signing him.

While it looks as though Hardaway will ride off into the sunset, Riley is left to clean up a mess that he might never completely clean. While sometimes changes are needed to get a team over the hump, this change appeared to be made because Riley”s ego got in the way. In today”s NBA, the player typically wins this sort of battle, as he can simply sign with another team, in this case Dallas.

Riley was left to not only find a suitable replacement for Hardaway something that he might not ever do unless he wins the NBA Lottery and can draft Duke”s Jason Williams but he was also left to explain to the rest of his team and the fans the mistake he made.

Riley, who was won four NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980s, has yet to win another title and more and more people now believe that he will never win another ONE.

While he has tried to defend himself in response to such criticism, Tuesday”s game showed the stress this season has taken on the embattled coach.

Considering Riley”s inability live up to the goals set in Miami or New York, another contender he coached before his stint in Miami and the fall of the Heat franchise, it might be best for everyone if Riley stepped down after this season and Miami tried to rebuild. A good place to start would be finding a competent point guard.

Raphael Goodstein can be reached at raphaelg@umich.edu.

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