- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Pat Riley’s South Beach makeover hasn’t worked.

As president of the Miami Heat, he tinkered and toyed with a 59-win team after it lost Game 7 of the 2005 Eastern Conference finals in the last 2:05.

Riley turned it into a 50-27 team with five games left in this season.

The best part: He had the chance to watch the whole thing from up close after Stan Van Gundy resigned following an 11-10 start.

Riley shouldn’t receive all the credit for shoving Van Gundy under the bus.

Shaquille O’Neal, with his three championship rings, felt being coached by Van Gundy was beneath him, which was the same way he felt about Del Harris and Kurt Rambis with the Lakers before hinting they should hire Phil Jackson.

That’s not exactly a stirring indictment of the Diesel.

If Shaq, Dwyane Wade and any assortment of complementary parts constitute a title contender, Riley is better suited to squeezing the potential out of it than the better-looking Van Gundy brother.

Riley’s miscalculation was in just how to assemble those complementary parts. He did it by working the biggest trade in NBA history — five teams, 13 players.

He essentially traded Eddie Jones for Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey, later dumped Damon Jones and signed Gary Payton.

This sounds like Riley picked up four solid players for two, except that acquiring Walker has never worked. Every team that has done so has lived to regret it.

At 29, Walker is having his worst season statistically, which is beside the point. He’s doing so because he’s playing a career-low 26.5 minutes, which he’s doing because Riley doesn’t trust him.

Walker takes bad shots. He makes poor decisions. He’s a low-percentage player who doesn’t know any more about basketball than he did when he left Kentucky after his sophomore season.

The worst part: As part of a sign-and-trade deal, the Heat will pay Walker $53million over six seasons.

Payton hasn’t worked out much better. At 37, he seems finished. He is full of hubris like the old Tim Hardaway, not savvy like the old Terry Porter.

Williams, his career salvaged by Hubie Brown a few seasons ago, has been a nice addition. How far Miami advances in the playoffs depends on the health of Williams, Shaq and Alonzo Mourning.

The Heat were 125 seconds away from the NBA Finals, and their two franchise players were playing hurt.

They lost to the defending NBA champions. That was nothing to be ashamed of.

There was no makeover needed, just a nip and tuck here and there.

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