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Pat Riley On LeBron: “It Was A Tough Blow, We’ve Recovered Well”

Yesterday, Pat Riley addressed reporters for the first time since LeBron James announced his decision to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s disappointed, but also very defiant as the Heat look to remain competitive in the East.

Via Michael Wallace of ESPN, Riley sold free agents on the idea that LeBron was coming back:

“I went into it with the notion he was coming back, so I was selling that to players,” Riley said Wednesday. “I let him know that. He never said, ‘Don’t do that.’ ”

“No doubt we lost a great player,” Riley said of losing James. “I don’t get hurt. … The hurt didn’t last long. We picked up the phone and went to work. Sometimes, things happen that you don’t like, but you have to move on. I feel really good about where we are right now at this moment. I feel we are up to the challenge and will be as competitive as anyone in the Eastern Conference.”

It’s fascinating — albeit not surprising — to hear Riley talk about the confidence he had in retaining LeBron during free agency. Just several days before LeBron made his decision, he met with Riley in Las Vegas. The day before he chose Cleveland, LeBron was together with Dwyane Wade and apparently didn’t inform him about his decision to leave the Heat until they flew back to Miami together that night. So, LeBron kept things pretty close to the vest, which might have given Riley a false sense of comfort that he wasn’t going anywhere. Riley did mention he didn’t hear back from LeBron on several emails and texts he sent during free agency.

Riley also talked about the emotional press conference he held immediately after their Finals loss to the Spurs, which you can watch in full here:

It appeared Riley was addressing LeBron directly when he spoke about the difficulty of winning titles, and how it would make no sense to walk away at the first sign of adversity. Riley doesn’t believe the press conference upset LeBron:

Riley said Wednesday he was speaking out of frustration from an embarrassing performance in the Finals against the Spurs and did not direct those comments specifically at James. Riley denied that he had any indication or feeling at that time that James may have been thinking about leaving.

“My message that day was borne out of just getting beat against a great team by a total of 70 points in five games,” Riley said. “We got our (expletives) handed to us. I was upset, and you should get upset. That’s sort of how I reacted. It wasn’t about making any direct comment to one player because everybody on our team was a free agent at that time, or about ready to become free agents.”

Regardless, Riley is defiant and ready to move on. He’s confident in his team, and with Chris Bosh and Wade back in the fold, plus the addition of Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, Riley doesn’t think this Heat team is very far away from contending again, and is already looking ahead to the summer of 2016:

Asked if he was ready to make another big free-agency splash in two years, Riley, 69, answered “yes.”

“It’s fired me up,” Riley said of dealing with the emotional highs and lows of the past month. “I don’t like to get beat in anything.

“This process didn’t take anything out of me. That chain has been broken prematurely, but we’re going to try to make it a generational (team) again. We were always looking at 2016 to be a (major) player (in free agency).”

The 2016 free agency class is led by Kevin Durant, hence those nefarious Wizards rumors that have come earlier than an election cycle. But the 2016 FA class also includes names like Brook Lopez, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and Al Jefferson.

Riley made a huge splash when he formed the Big Three in 2010. We wouldn’t put it past him to do it again in two years. If anything, it appears LeBron’s departure has rejuvenated Riley and given him added motivation to get the Heat back to the Finals without him.

What do you think?

Follow steven lebron on Twitter at @steven_lebron.

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