7.03.2017

Ainge and Riles Still at It

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It was fun. It was loud. It was just four years ago Boston's Danny Ainge said it was "almost embarrassing" how LeBron James complained about some referees' calls, and Heat president Pat Riley dropped a 31-word bomb in a hand-delivered news release to defend James.

"Danny Ainge needs to shut the f--- up and manage his own team. He was the biggest whiner when he was playing, and I know that because I coached against him."

Those were the days, weren't they? When Riley's words thundered from the throne in righteous pissed-off-ness. When the Heat weren't just winning it all but could take the high ground against long-distance whiners like Ainge.

Now it's Riley vs. Ainge in some form again in the immediate chase for Gordon Hayward. The stakes increased in this chase Friday night, too, as two other options went off the table. Paul George was traded to Oklahoma City and Blake Griffin re-signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.

The odds changed, perhaps, too, as Ainge passed on trading some of Boston's bounty of draft picks for George. Without George, Ainge loses an added piece to recruit Hayward.

This remains a question about Ainge in the manner it never is about Riley. He keeps collecting draft picks instead of spending them. He keeps living for tomorrow in a game where Riley makes deals for now, today, this year.

Hayward is scheduled to meet with the Heat on Saturday, then Boston on Sunday.

This gets to the other story in the NBA that starts this weekend. Everyone knows the players have the prime power. Chris Paul confirmed that again this week by setting up his trade to Houston. And why? Because of Houston's front office or coaching? No, because he wanted to play with James Harden and who knows else.

That's the power of the players in the game. But there also is a power in the cult of a franchise's personality. Phil Jackson ruined the Knicks with his. Riley made the Heat with his in the manner Gregg Popovich did in San Antonio.

Ainge, too, has done Boston well. He maneuvered deals to get Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for a 2008 title. Riley and LeBron, of course, then went out and got Allen to join the Heat in 2012.

"I don't feel like we lost Ray; I feel like Ray left us to go to Miami," Ainge said at the time.

Riley and Ainge go way back, of course. Back to the 1980s. Back to when a slick-haired Riley coached the Lakers, a peevish-faced Ainge played for Boston and championships were at stake.

Ainge was a top player, if not an always respected one. The Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wiped him out with a screen in one Finals. Byron Scott got in a fight with him. But Riley never took public issue with Ainge. Just the contrary. The ultimate competitor dressed in Armani recognized a kindred spirit in green.

"He's an 'effort' player," Riley said of Ainge in 1987. "If you don't play him with effort, he'll kill you. He's the prototype of the work ethic. If you don't come ready to play, he'll make a monkey of you. Show you up.

"It's not that he doesn't have talent. He does. But it's the fact there is no better competitor in the game that shines through."

They're still competing. It's Hayward at stake this time. Hayward, of course, has the real power here. Who knows what he wants? The Heat would be building with him around Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and probably James Johnson with a good supporting roster .

Boston has Isiah Thomas, Al Horford, Avery Bradley and a good-not-great cast, too. In fact, after the Heat's 30-11 second half last year, you can be sure Riley will be saying the Heat have as proven a team as the Celtics.

Would the Celtics, even with Gordon, be good enough to compete with Cleveland? Can the Heat be there with Hayward?

This is what Riley and Ainge will be deftly discussing in the scheduled interviews with Haward. You don't get to pick your rivals in sports. For years, Riley went against Phil Jackson. That played itself out to the point Jackson left New York in shame this week.

For now, it's Ainge. Again. Ainge has the chips in his favor. But does he have the personality? The shrewdness? It's really time for him to shut the f--- up and manage his team.


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