MIAMI (AP) - Upon hearing the news that Ray Allen had decided to take less money and join the Miami Heat, reigning NBA MVP LeBron James sounded less than surprised.
He knew who closed the deal.
"Pat done it again," James said that night.
Sure enough, Pat Riley had done it again - gotten someone the Heat coveted at a discount price.
Whether it's the lure of no state taxes, the South Florida weather, the chance to play alongside a trio of stars like James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh or some combination thereof, Riley and the Heat have figured out a way to get who they want and fit them into some pretty stringent salary parameters. The plan delivered the 2012 NBA title, and now with a sharpshooter like Allen taking essentially a half-price offer, the Heat could be heavy favorites to repeat next season.
"I just mention LeBron and Chris and Dwyane," Riley said, addressing his recruiting style. "And then we take it from there."
It's a bit more detailed than that.
The Hall of Fame coach is showing he's a master executive as well.
"He understands players and he's a winner," Heat guard James Jones said. "And the guys he targets are winners"
James, Wade, Bosh, Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller signed deals worth roughly $70 million less than they could have gotten elsewhere two summers ago. Shane Battier took a discount last year, and now Allen has done the same - taking $3 million from Miami for next season as opposed to $6 million to stay in Boston. Allen's previous contracts added up to about $175 million in salary anyway, which surely cushioned his choice to leave $3 million on the table now.
By now, Riley getting deals like this done has almost become expected.
"Enthusiasm is contagious, and Coach Riley (is) a carrier," agent Arn Tellem wrote on his blog in 2010, when Miller - his client - sacrificed some dollars to have a chance to be part of Miami's championship chase. "Had he not become coach of the Heat, he could have made millions by opening a chain of tanning salons in the Sunshine State. He's that good. Pat had a vision for the team, a vision that he laid out with evangelical fervor. We left the room converted."
Riley doesn't have one sales pitch.
There was the infamous story from 2010, when Riley put his seven championship rings in a bag and dropped it before James, letting the clinking of the jewelry be a selling point for the title-starved superstar. ("Pretty cool," James said.) He's been known to make videos for free agents that he's wooing. With Allen, they talked about books - Riley gave him one - and discussed some quotes that Riley thought Allen would find inspiring.
It's not Riley doing all the talking. He defers to Alonzo Mourning, now a Heat executive, to talk about how players are handled. Andy Elisburg, the team's assistant general manager and manager of everything related to the salary cap, lays out the financial aspects. Micky Arison, the team's managing general partner, talks about family. Almost as if to prove the point, Nick Arison, the owner's son and now team CEO, is part of the recruiting team as well.
But in the end, Riley is the closer.
He doesn't just get players to agree to take a bit less money, but has talked some into accepting lesser roles as well. Wade, the 2006 NBA Finals MVP, gladly gave up his biggest share of the Miami spotlight to make room for James. Wade also left more money on the table than anyone else during that negotiating session in 2010 as well.
"Pat can be miraculous," Wade said this past season.
Consider this year's Heat free-agent haul. There was Allen, and alongside him Rashard Lewis signed for $1.35 million - again, less than he could have gotten elsewhere. But he was more than willing to take Miami's this-is-all-we-have offer because set to make another $13.7 million from having the final year of his previous contract bought out by the New Orleans Hornets.
"If we could, and had the ability to pay all the players really what they could get on the open market, we would," Riley said. "We don't have that capability. So Rashard and Ray, people that are interested in coming here, they know coming in what the situation is. They want to be here, I really believe, because of the organization as much as anything. ... They see a team that has an opportunity to be a winner. And at this stage of their career, this is what it's about."
Allen said that was the case. So did Lewis, whose last contract was worth $118 million, but didn't net him any championships. That's why he, too, will be in Miami next season.
"You can't really put a monetary value on special experience," Jones said. "At some point you've accumulated enough wealth to take care of your family for eons."
Associated Press Writer Kelli Kennedy contributed to this story.
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