Erik Spoelstra: Pat Riley on Mount Rushmore of executives

PHILADELPHIA -- Pat Riley has already earned enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame, but Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says his longtime boss belongs in even more exclusive company.

"Pat is on the Mount Rushmore of executives," Spoelstra said Thursday in advance of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers. "He should always be in that consideration, every single year. Because he kind of sets the blueprint and he's been able to do it so many different times. And then do it when people think that you can't."

Spoelstra's comments come in the context of the NBA announcing that Memphis Grizzlies executive vice president Zach Kleiman was selected as the Executive of the Year for the 2021-22 season. Spoelstra had no issue with Kleiman's selection. He spoke more of the appreciation he has for team president Riley, senior vice president of basketball operations Andy Elisburg, and the work the rest of the Heat's front office has done over the years.

He also appreciated the fact that James Jones, who runs basketball operations for the Phoenix Suns -- and spent six years playing for the Heat -- finished fourth in the voting.

"How many guys has Pat mentored?" Spoelstra said. "Coaching and front office. I'm in there all the time where somebody will be calling him about advice. And Pat, they don't have recognition like this, but if they ever did, he easily could be Hall of Fame in both -- as a coach in this league and as an executive on its own. That's how good he is."

Spoelstra had a clear answer for why Riley's message has resonated for so long. On top of winning five NBA championships as a coach, Riley has helped the Heat to three titles as the longtime president of the team -- and as coach in 2006. He helped recruit LeBron James to Miami after the 2010 season, which led to James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade winning titles in 2012 and 2013. Riley shared the Executive of the Year award with Bulls GM Gar Forman in 2011.

"Pat's a visionary," Spoelstra said. "He's a force of nature. He has 50 years of experience in this league at the highest level. And has had as much success in this league as anyone. He has a blueprint, he has a way of making things happen, but he's also adapted and adjusted. You don't have this kind of success if you haven't adapted over the years. I think that's one of the things that gets overlooked a lot. He's reinvented how we do it and how we put together teams, over and over and over, depending on the era."