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 MIAMI (AP) -Pat Riley has been hearing questions about his coaching future for weeks. He still isn't ready to answer.
The Miami Heat coach and president, who announced last summer he would remain on the sideline through the end of the 2009-2010 season, refused to say Wednesday if that plan has changed.
Yet he's aware Wednesday night's finale against Atlanta could be the 1,904th and final regular-season game of his Hall of Fame coaching career. After that, a round of exit interviews with players and staff await Thursday, followed by a meeting with Heat owner Micky Arison, which will presumably take place early next week.
From there, the question - ``Will he stay or go?'' - will likely be answered.
``Borne out of that conversation, I'll make a decision,'' Riley said. ``The conversation with him is going to be important for a lot of reasons. I really want to do what's in the best interest of the Heat.''
The Heat, who spent much of the season without Dwyane Wade, Alonzo Mourning, Udonis Haslem and Dorell Wright because of injuries, took a 14-67 record into Wednesday's game. They needed a win to match the expansion 1988-89 club for the worst mark in franchise history.
Riley dismissed the notion that he wouldn't want his career to end on such a down note, saying ``there's no perfect time.'' And players said they weren't sure if Riley was leaning one way or another.
``When you're in the midst of this kind of season, you've got to give it thought,'' Riley said. ``I've been at this 25 years. I know what's going on. Hard evaluation on yourself is the first thing that you have to really assess.''
Until this season, Riley - a coach of five NBA championship teams - had endured only two other sub-.500 seasons. He retired after the second one, making the stunning decision to step aside just days before the start of 2003-04 season and turning the team over to longtime top assistant Stan Van Gundy.
Riley then took over again when Van Gundy, just as shockingly, stepped down 21 games into the 2005-06 season. Riley led that Heat team to that year's NBA championship, but Miami has gone 58-109 in regular-season and playoff games in the two seasons since winning that title.
And those two seasons have, at times, been draining.
``Coach Riley, he's a competitor. No matter what, he wants to win,'' guard Chris Quinn said Wednesday. ``Whether it's the 82nd game of a 14-win, 15-win season or in the playoffs, he wants to win. Just like anybody else, when you cross through those lines, your competitive (nature) takes over and you want to win the game.''
Riley missed 22 games last season to have surgeries on his hip and knee, then missed four games this season to scout players who may be available to the Heat in this year's NBA draft. Miami has the best chance of obtaining the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, and by having the league's worst record is assured of getting a top-four selection.
``There's a lot of great possibilities,'' Riley said. ``We're not locked in. We're not stuck. We have options.''
It's not a coincidence that Riley's original plan to coach three more seasons was in line with the number of years that remained on Shaquille O'Neal's contract entering the 2007-08 campaign. But the O'Neal era in Miami ended somewhat acrimoniously in early February, when the Heat sent him to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks.
Riley, who also won NBA titles as an assistant coach and a player, takes a 1,209-694 record into Wednesday night's finale. Include his 171 playoff victories, Riley has a .632 winning percentage in his coaching career, a stat that helped him be voted earlier this month into the 2008 induction class for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
``The positive thing out of this is what lies ahead,'' Riley said. ``I know the players are chomping at the bit also to put this behind us.''
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