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Riley challenging himself to make sure what happened to Heat this year 'won't happen again'

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MIAMI — Pat Riley finds himself leaning his head to the left quite a bit these days. There's an irritated nerve in his neck, and it's far from comfortable.

"It's killing me," Riley said. "But I'm not going to make an excuse for it."

Such was the metaphor that Basketball Hall of Famer and President of the Miami Heat used to assess the 2014-15 season. Excruciating as it often was, Riley is still convinced the team that he helped assemble should be in the playoffs right now.

Instead, a 37-45 record in a year that seemed snakebitten from the start means Miami's season ended early.

"I challenge myself more than anybody else," Riley said, "to make sure that what happened this year won't happen again."

He's 70 years old, never reveals if he even knows how much longer he'll work for a living, is a holder of nine championship rings and isn't interested in any drawn-out rebuilding project. He starts every season with the singular goal of winning a title, no matter how long the odds seem.

Next year will be no different.

"There's not a person in the organization that doesn't think we should have made the playoffs," Riley said.

This isn't a situation like last season, where the Heat were coming off a loss in the NBA Finals and Riley spent some of his end-of-season address time trying to not-so-subtly urge LeBron James to stay in Miami. James didn't listen, and Riley said he's at peace with that now — though another thinly veiled message seemed to be offered Monday.

PHOTO: Miami Heat President Pat Riley talks to the media, Monday, April 20, 2015, in Miami. Riley expressed displeasure with himself and the Miami Heat organization for failing to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Miami Heat President Pat Riley talks to the media, Monday, April 20, 2015, in Miami. Riley expressed displeasure with himself and the Miami Heat organization for failing to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

When it comes to free agency this year, Riley said there will be "no more smiling faces with hidden agendas." It was never made clear by James why he summoned Riley to a meeting in Las Vegas several days into the free-agent period last July, when it seemed like his decision to leave Miami and return home to Cleveland was already made.

There are some free-agent matters for Riley this season, notably trying to keep point guard Goran Dragic in Miami. The Heat gave up two draft picks to acquire Dragic from Phoenix in February, knowing he would opt out of his contract this summer and hit the open market.

Dragic has often said he hopes to stay in Miami.

"We feel very confident that we can ... but there has not been any indication, any discussion at all with he or his representatives about anything," Riley said. "When I made the trade and gave up two picks for him, you roll the dice. But you also feel good about how we're in a very good position to offer him more than anybody else."

The Heat can offer Dragic five years and just over $100 million. No one else can offer more than four years.

There's also a lottery to deal with next month, when Miami will hope that no one knocks them down a peg to the No. 11 pick. As it stands now, Miami would have the No. 10 pick. If the Heat stay there — or rise — they would keep that selection. Fall to No. 11, and the pick goes to Philadelphia.

"Hopefully on May the 19th we don't have any more buzzard's luck," Riley said.

They had plenty of that this season: Chris Bosh was lost at the All-Star break with blood clots on his lung; Josh McRoberts was done for the year way early with a knee injury; and Dwyane Wade missed about one-quarter of the schedule primarily because of two separate hamstring issues.

Riley has said there are two things in sports, winning and misery. This year, misery far outweighed the other.

"Failure will always drive you," Riley said. "I don't want to hear any excuses about anything. And I always felt one of the greatest achievements on the part of anybody is through great adversity to win a championship or to win big or to do something above and beyond. Trying to be above and beyond, it's a goal."

"And the misery is a little bit more short-lived," he added, "with a good Cabernet and stuff after a game."

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