Pat Riley is a legend in the NBA coaching sphere. He spent 24 seasons as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Miami Heat, and had tremendous success with those franchises. As a coach, he won three Coach of the Year awards, five Finals, and was named one of the ten greatest coaches in NBA history in 1996.
He transitioned from coaching to the front office after the Heat finished the 2007-08 season at a dreadful 15-67 and Riley has served as the team president ever since. As president, Riley has been a part of two more championships in 2012 and 2013 and has made his fair share of acquisitions. The most notable one was bringing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach to team up with Dwyane Wade and form the Big Three, but Riley doesn’t believe that’s his greatest move.
According to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, trading for Shaquille O’Neal changed everything. “I’ll say this, and I mean this,” said Riley, “Shaq’s acquisition was bigger than any acquisition that we ever made, including the Big Three.” He went on to say that “getting Shaquille changed everything for our franchise.”
Back during the summer of 2004, the Lakers dealt Shaq for Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, a 2006 first round pick, and a 2007 second round pick. O’Neal was still a solid player but wasn’t putting up numbers anywhere close to what he was with the Lakers and the Magic.
At 31-years-old during the 2003-04 season, Shaq averaged 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, and led the league with a field goal percentage of 58.4. Despite him and Kobe Bryant continuing to dominate, Los Angeles wasn’t able to capture a championship after their three-peat from 2000-2002, and tensions were running high between the Diesel and the Mamba.
The year before they traded for Shaq, Stan Van Gundy coached the team to a 42-40 record, and the Heat were able to advance to the second round of that year’s playoffs after beating New Orleans in seven games in the first round. That was also Wade’s first year as a pro, and he was shaping up nicely.
The duo of Shaq and Wade led to an immediate turnaround, and Miami’s win total jumped up to 59 the year after the move. Miami’s success reached its pinnacle in 2006 after they won four straight games against the Mavericks in the Finals, but that was largely thanks to Wade averaging 39.3 points on 50.5 percent shooting in those four wins; O’Neal wasn’t entirely lost, though, and averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds.
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It’s also worth noting that Shaq began to struggle with injuries after going to Miami, which did more harm than good.
When James and Bosh came to Miami, however, the Eastern Conference was theirs. Shaq/Wade made just one trip to the Finals during their time while James/Wade/Bosh went to four-straight, with back-to-back victories highlighting it.
The King played the most efficient basketball of his career as a part of their roster and played a huge role in the outcomes of all four playoffs they went to. Bosh, the most underrated part of the Big Three, was also big for them, and it’s unsure if they would’ve his lights-out shooting in the playoffs.
Rings speak louder than anything, and although Shaq may have legitimized the franchise, Wade, James, and Bosh took it to new heights.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference
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