MIAMI (AP) - The Miami Heat gathered on their practice court, the squeaks of sneakers and the bouncing of basketballs echoing off the walls. It was like countless workouts before. This time, however, Pat Riley wasn't the coach.The new era of Heat basketball - with Erik Spoelstra the coach - opened with the start of training camp Saturday, and Riley insists he couldn't be happier.
A Hall of Fame coach with 1,210 wins, seven championship rings and an iconic legacy in the league, Riley decided five months ago that the time was right to turn the keys over to Spoelstra, who worked his way from the video room to the coach's chair in 13 years.
Riley is still around, but will lead from the front office, not the front lines.
"My role is that I'm the president of basketball operations and my job is to try to build this team back to where we want to become a championship contender again," Riley said. "I want to do that as quickly as I can. But I'll do it from behind my desk. I'm not going to be out there in front. I think it'll be a lot like it was the last time. ... I know where my place is."
Almost to a man, everyone in the Heat locker room, even those who never played for him, still call him "Coach Riley."
The fact that he isn't coaching anymore won't change that.
His office is a short walk from the practice floor, he'll almost be a fixture at most games - whether he's visible or not - and still has a powerful voice in every Heat personnel decision. Plus, Spoelstra isn't shy about saying he's a product of the Heat culture, the one Riley installed when he arrived in South Florida in the mid-90s.
"All I've experienced in my two years prior to this is coach Riley running everything," third-year point guard Chris Quinn said. "But coach Spo was my summer league coach for two years, so I kind of have a little taste of it. It's exciting, kind of a new beginning, especially after last year. It's exciting to have another year and to get things going."
Riley met with Spoelstra constantly during the offseason, talking about how to revamp the roster while keeping salaries below the luxury tax threshold; the Heat did that with a mere $415,000 to spare.
But their chats were about players, not plays.
On that point, Riley is clear: It's Spoelstra's call.
"I know he's an X-and-O coach. I know that part of the game, from that standpoint, he's very knowledgeable," Riley said. "He's going to be organized. He's going to be disciplined. And I think he'll bring it out on the court, every single night."
Riley will be watching closely, of course. His role is still, in many ways, patriarchal within the Heat, having spent years grooming Spoelstra for this opportunity.
That doesn't mean that if Riley disagrees with something Spoelstra does, he'll necessarily chime in with his opinion.
"I'm not going to be up and down with him on anything that I see, that I might not agree with," Riley said. "Everybody does it differently. I trust that he's going to do it in the nature that he feels comfortable in doing it in, so I'm going to give him a free rein here."
Riley retired once before, tapping former top assistant Stan Van Gundy to be his replacement in a stunning move days before the start of the 2003-04 season, Dwyane Wade's rookie campaign.
Van Gundy eventually stepped down as well, citing family reasons 21 games into the 2005-06 season. Riley returned, led the Heat to that season's NBA title, and stayed for the last two injury-plagued years.
He insists that this time, his coaching days are done for good.
"One day I was driving to work and then all of a sudden my mind went there, and I just said, 'Thank God I'm not in there doing film and doing playbooks and doing all these things that would overwhelm your mind,"' Riley said. "Even though I'm a little bit overwhelmed with my desk duties now, that's behind me. And I love watching Erik work."