MIAMI -- The Miami Heat's first-round flop against the New York Knicks prompted a twist on the usual fan criticism: Fire the players, not the coach.
And Pat Riley, part owner of the team as well as the coach, may do just that.
Riley thought he built a team ready to fill the championship void created by Michael Jordan's retirement. Instead, the Heat were eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs for the third time in Riley's four years as coach.
Allan Houston's last-second shot Sunday for the New York Knicks drove home the point: Miami needs a makeover.
"Obviously we'll sit down and talk about what we're going to do this offseason," Riley said after the Heat became just the second top-seeded team to lose in the first round.
Perhaps Riley should share in the blame, because his blueprint is a bust. But his four world championship rings with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s still carry considerable clout, and Riley has been spared in the backlash of criticism triggered by Sunday's defeat.
Instead, Heat players will take the heat.
As is his custom, Riley laid low on the first day of the offseason and didn't talk to the media Monday. So speculation began without him. The question is not whether he'll shake up the roster, but how.
The only player considered untouchable is center Alonzo Mourning, who had an MVP-caliber year and a fine series against the Knicks. But his teammates, including point guard Tim Hardaway, can only wonder whether they'll be back.
"I like going to war with this group of guys, and I don't want to see change," Mourning said. "But this game is about change, and with Riles running the ship, if adjustments have to be made, he'll make them."
The Knicks series confirmed adjustments have to be made. The Heat became the first No. 1 seed from the Eastern Conference to lose against a No. 8 seed. Last year, Miami was the first No. 2 seed from the East to be eliminated by a No. 7 seed.
Making matters worse, Miami lost both times to the despised Knicks.
"Last year was tough. This is going to be even tougher," guard Dan Majerle said. "We play hard, but we just haven't been able to get it done."
The series against New York underscored the Heat's deficiencies: they rely too much on outside shots and badly need a scorer at shooting guard or small forward. Miami has no reliable third option beyond Mourning and Hardaway, who struggled through a miserable series.
Hardaway shot 27 percent against the Knicks and averaged 9.0 points per game, barely half his average. He was shut out in the second half of Game 5.
"It was just a bad stretch I hit, and I didn't come through for my team," he said. "That's all."
With his productivity curtailed, Miami averaged just 79.0 points against New York, the second-lowest figure in a five-game series in NBA history. The Heat set the record of 78.6 against the Bulls two years ago.
Riley's biggest decision will be whether to keep Hardaway, the Heat's best clutch player the past four years. He has one season left on his contract, but turns 33 in September and is plagued by knee trouble.
If Riley decides to sacrifice defense for more offense, he might part with power forward P.J. Brown, who has the most trade value of any player except Mourning. Guards Jamal Mashburn and Voshon Lenard have limited marketability after disappointing seasons curtailed by injury.
Guards Majerle and Terry Porter become free agents this summer. Both have expressed an interest in remaining with Miami, and they're the only players on the roster with experience in the NBA Finals. But Majerle is 33 and Porter 36.
Soon enough, the scapegoats for the failure of 1999 will be selected. Riley's postseason record in Miami is a lackluster 12-18, and with the offseason prematurely under way, coach Pat is unlikely to stand pat.
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