Right up until the surprise announcement, Pat Riley and the Miami Heat were operating as though LeBron James would be back on South Beach.
Reiterating his stance that the Heat will survive without the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player, Riley told reporters Wednesday that he was telling prospective free agents that he expected James to return to Miami — and that James never dissuaded him from that approach.
“I went into it with the notion he was coming back, so I was selling that to players,” Riley said, according to ESPN.com. “I let him know that. He never said, ‘Don’t do that.'”
Riley then was quick to say he did not feel misled by James, although that seems to be exactly what he felt. The longtime coach and executive issued a challenge of sorts to James after the Heat’s NBA Finals loss to the San Antonio Spurs, saying “you don’t find the first door and run out of it.” The Heat reacted to James’ departure by re-signing Chris Bosh to a maximum contract and Dwyane Wade to a hometown discount.
James signed a two-year, $42 million deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers in mid-July, leaving the door open for him to become a free agent when the league signs a new television contract that is expected to be far more lucrative than the current agreement.