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Between Riley and Reality

Erik Spoelstra has 90 victories and two playoff appearances on his resume in two seasons as coach. Spo-frustrated

But he's now in the midst of a battle he has no shot at winning. When Pat Riley is the option on the other side - whether real or imagined - there is no scheme or game plan to overcome this obstacle.

There's no foul to give.

With Heat president Pat Riley leaving the door open to a possible return to the bench of a likely-to-be-largely-revamped roster, it effectively slams one shut in Spoelstra's face in the court of public opinion.

The stakes are high this summer for the Heat. Riley has rolled the ultimate dice with promises and vows to put together a "dynastic" product that will be on course to win titles for years to come.

Make not mistake. Pat has gone P.T. Barnum when it comes to the hype machine. He's selling sand to South Beach. He's selling visions of Bermuda to the man in a basement in Birmingham.

Riles is a master motivator, and an even better manipulator. There's a reason Chris Rock, in one of his best lines ever, said to forget about Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the like with regards to civil rights leadership. When it comes to Rock's choice for leading black men to success, he's voting for Riley.

Who could argue with five championships?

But there comes a point when the hype machine has you scratching your head. By even suggesting that he'd consider coming back to coach the Heat - if a stud free agent issued such a condition - it effectively placed Spoelstra on the proverbial hot seat.

Don't get me wrong, Spo was going to be there regardless, just because of the pressure and expectations that come with next season's team.

But the path Riley is taking leads to a much quicker exile at the earliest sign of unrest, second-guessing or upheaval on Spoelstra's watch next season. That shakedown in the visitors locker room in Chicago when that losing streak hit five? It proved to be a turning point in the season for Spoelstra. But next season? Such a scene would certainly lead to employee turnover on the bench.

And the crazy thing about this situation is this: Riley would have handled the whole Beasley play-him-or-bench-him thing the same way as Spoelstra did - if not more harshly on the kid's behalf. And Riles probably wouldn't have caught a fraction of the Heat from the fanbase for doing so.

And it was only three years ago when that veteran team defending its title frustrated Riley so much that he kicked another sort of door open, blew out his knee in the process and took a sabatacal.

But Riley has clout. So much so that the Dos Equis dude has nothing on Pat. And that's why you wonder.

You wonder that, perhaps, maybe this was all part of the grand plan put in place when Riley stepped down after that 15-67 season two years ago. What we knew then was that Riley couldn't wait to get that "godforsaken" season over with so he could move full steam ahead into the exclusive job of creating this 2010 sea of opportunity.

If Riley ends up coaching next season, it's not too out of the realm of possibility to suggest that he set this potential return up some time ago - perhaps from the time he stepped away.

Perhaps Spoelstra was essentially given a two-year internship to gain experience amid low expectations and get the team through the housecleaning stages. Meanwhile, Riley works behind the scenes to clear cap space and also address some health issues. Keep in mind, Spoelstra's original contract was set to expire this summer, not next, right along with Riley's.

But then those budget/staff cuts came last summer. If what we're told was true, Spoelstra has this 2010-11 season on his contract as a result of the extension he was awarded to soften the blow administrative employees absorbed for accepting pay cuts amid the sluggish economy.

So here we are. Conspiracy theories have been concocted on much less.

And besides LeBron James, who among this group of potential free agents (other than Wade, but he's already here) has the clout to demand Riley to return to the bench BEFORE even giving Spoelstra a shot?

Think about it. LeBron is playing for Mike Brown right now. Amare is playing for Alvin Gentry. Bosh has played for Sam Mitchell and Jay Triano. Joe Johnson is playing for Mike Woodson.

With all due respect, we're not talking about much more - or less - than a bunch of Spoelstras here. Only Carlos Boozer (Jerry Sloan) could come in with any real argument about a coaching downgrade.

Riley-handsout But that's neither here nor there at this point. Riley has opened the door. And he has every right to do so if it means setting this franchise up in the best position possible.

Even if that fosters a perception that Riley would sell out his hand-picked successor and roll Spoelstra under a bus along the next planned parade route on Biscayne Boulevard. 

The reality, however, might be something completely different. "That's why we all love working for Pat," was the way Spoelstra put it a few days ago.

Juggling the two - perception and reality - is where Riley is at his best.

It's where Pat puts P.T. to shame.

One way or another, it's all part of the greatest show on earth.

(For live news, notes and updates on the Heat, follow me on Twitter @ twitter.com/wallacesports. To post a question or join our live Heat chat each Thursday from 1-2 p.m., click here.)




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