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Riley's master free-agent plan started long ago

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 06:36 AM
MIAMI -

Pat Riley's summer of 2010 truly started with the summer of 2005.

There was no elaborate plan for the Miami Heat to woo Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh then. Instead, that's when Riley got Shaquille O'Neal to sign a $100 million, five-year contract. A championship followed the very next season. Riley believed another NBA dynasty was on the way.

Then, thud.

O'Neal was traded in February 2008, Miami was the NBA's worst team and Riley quickly realized the bloated contracts the Heat had to accept in exchange for shipping Shaq elsewhere would keep his team from having real money to spend until 2010.

At long last, that time has arrived.

"So here we are," Riley said.

Yes, and that dynasty Riley envisioned four years ago might still be born. Dwyane Wade wants to stay in Miami. He wouldn't mind having LeBron James join him. Or Chris Bosh. Or both, for that matter. And if there's one team in the NBA that has the financial ability to get three of the top five picks in the 2003 draft together for the next few years, it's likely going to be Miami.

It's a heck of a fantasy basketball lineup - Wade, James and Bosh.

Yet in the summer of 2010, fantasy could actually become reality.

"I think it will be equivalent to a space shuttle launch," Riley said back in May, shortly after the season ended and the Heat summer of 2010 began. "Everybody who's covering the day it's going to get launched, you never know it is until they hit the button. When they hit the button, a lot of things explode down underneath to lift the rocket up."

Get ready for some explosions, the first wave of which has already arrived.

Henry Thomas, Wade's agent, said Tuesday the 2006 finals MVP has talked with both James and Bosh (whom Thomas also represents) in recent days, though denied an ESPN report that the trio met this past weekend in Miami, noting that Wade was in Chicago for meetings and taking his sons to a White Sox-Cubs game, while Bosh vacationed in South Florida.

"My guys don't know what they're going to do," Thomas said in a telephone interview. "I don't think LeBron does either. It's all speculation. Everyone's just speculating."

Wade plans to listen to suitors, a list expected to include New York, New Jersey, Chicago and possibly Dallas, although none of those teams could make the same offer as Miami.

With a league-high $43.3 million - not counting what Wade would make next season - in salary cap room, the Heat are in a stronger position than anyone when the free agency shopping window finally opens at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Miami's first priority is keeping Wade, who wants to stay and even though he's expected to meet with several teams, it would be a shocker if he left South Florida.

If Wade re-signs, Miami would still have about $27 million left to court others. And Wade has been letting certain guys know that he'd like them as teammates.

Let the games begin.

"I don't look at it as recruiting," Wade told The Associated Press. "I look at it as gauging, conversation between guys to see what they like. It's not like we're getting together saying 'You go here, I'll go here and we'll meet in the conference finals.' It's not like that. You do conversations to see what a guy is thinking. If they're a free agent and want to know what Miami can do for them, I'll gauge them in conversation."

What Miami will start doing Thursday is a rarity.

When that clock hits 12:01, the Heat could have only two players under contract. Every deal Riley has struck for the last few years has been with this day in mind, not wanting to take on any contract that would keep him from digging as deeply as possible in owner Micky Arison's pockets this summer.

"We have been in this for two years," Riley said.

Unlike other teams with cap space, Miami can offer the likes of James and Bosh the chance to play with a former NBA finals MVP, assuming Wade wants to stick around. There's no state income tax in Florida, so millions more would stay in a free agent's bank account. And then there's the lure of Riley, who even though he's retired from coaching still has an exalted reputation among many players.

"The great Pat Riley," is what O'Neal called his boss during his stay in Miami.

If he puts together another title team, he might become "the greater Pat Riley."

"We've been in constant communication," Wade said. "He knows what I want."

There's plenty of players who want to be part of the Heat as well.

If plans for neither James nor Bosh pan out, Miami has plenty of other options. Carlos Boozer has said Miami's his top choice. Amare Stoudemire has a home in South Florida. Rudy Gay is a restricted free agent who was impressed by the Heat and coach Erik Spoelstra after a humanitarian trip to Haiti earlier this offseason. And a slew of players from last season - Udonis Haslem, Quentin Richardson and Dorell Wright, notably - could all be easily talked into re-signing, provided the right offers come their way.

But there's been signs James and Bosh might want to reunite with their Olympic teammate, too.

James and the Cleveland Cavaliers visited Miami on Nov. 12. The Heat have No. 23 retired in their arena, a nod to Michael Jordan's career even though he never played for Miami. After that night's game, James announced he would not wear No. 23 after the 2009-10 season.

Coincidence?

"I think to win, you've got to have team players and be around team players," Wade said. "I'm a team guy. LeBron's a team guy."

Bosh thinks he's one, too.

When he was in Miami over the weekend, he made no secret that he enjoyed the city's vibe and even took to Twitter to rave about hanging out in a cabana. It's been surmised for some time that Riley - who's always drooled over the prospect of athletic interior players - has Bosh near the top of his wish list.

"It might be a pretty good fit, if it were like that," Bosh told The AP. "And Miami as a city, it's no secret that people like Miami. I think the team has a pretty good reputation around the league for how they do things. It's been good. They've had some good runs here, with the title run being in there, and I know they want to get back. The city, the organization, they're very hungry to get back on top."

That process started years ago.

It ramps up again just past midnight Thursday.

"I know what I'm going to do," Riley said.

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