People began rallying against Chris Bosh’s future with the Heat only a few weeks into his career in Miami.
National columnists, radio voices and anxious fans caught up in the fury of that 9-8 start back in 2010 knew with the confidence of an afterthought that Bosh’s days were numbered in Miami. They never really stopped calling for his departure either.
Even after he said he wanted to stay. Even after he said he would take less money to make it all work. After everything, and up until the very moment he decided to re-sign with the Heat, people predicted and reported that Bosh was gone.
Now, he’s the franchise player for a team that has played for four consecutive NBA championships and won two of them.
Since the beginning, coach Erik Spoelstra has called Bosh the Heat’s “most important player.” Now he’s the highest-paid player, too, and, along with Dwyane Wade and a solid core of veterans, Bosh, 30, will lead the Heat into its next era. It’s a post-LeBron James world at 601 Biscayne Boulevard right now, but the bones of a successful transitional phase for owner Micky Arison’s franchise have been set.
The new-look Heat is still taking shape, but one thing is certain: the team isn’t looking back.
“We are an organization that has been strong,” team president Pat Riley said even before James announced his decision to move back to Cleveland. “Micky has been a great owner. We’ve got great leadership, great coaching, great discipline. We’ve got great fans. I didn’t come down here 19 years ago for a quick trip to South Beach and get a suntan. I can guarantee you that.”
Rightfully so, Riley did plenty of bathing and basking in the sun during what was likely the greatest four-year run of any professional sports franchise in South Florida history. To his credit, though, Riley didn’t waste a moment in the critical minutes and hours after James informed the Heat that he was moving on.
Riley’s first phone call was to Bosh, who was in Ghana at the time and working with the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program. Riley’s pitch was simple. Come back for a five-year, maximum contract and be the featured player for one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.
Riley already had secured a commitment from Josh McRoberts, the 6-10 former Charlotte Hornets power forward, and the Heat’s president was hopeful that both Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem would remain in Miami to help alleviate some of Bosh’s defensive responsibilities.
Haslem officially re-signed with the Heat on Friday and Andersen signed a two-year deal Saturday.
“Chris Andersen has had two great seasons with us and without him, we would not have been able to win the 2013 NBA championship,” Riley said in a statement. “I’m happy he decided to come back and we’re looking forward to a great season from him in the power rotation.”
Bosh took a backseat to James and Wade in his first four years with the Heat, but he is, without question, a better player now than when he first arrived from Toronto. Now he will have a chance to prove it.
Bosh reportedly turned down a four-year, maximum offer from the Houston Rockets to remain with the Heat. He would have fit nicely in Houston — to be accurate, Bosh’s diverse game would fit nicely just about anywhere — and made the Rockets an instant title contender, but again he would have been a third wheel.
The challenge of again leading a franchise, and for an extra year of guaranteed maximum money — and in the city his family loves — was appealing. Bosh averaged 24 points and more than 10 rebounds in his final season with the Toronto Raptors. He is expected pick up with those averages next season, but with the added elements of a championship-caliber defensive game and shooting range from beyond the three-point arc.
He’s a nine-time All-Star at the top of his game and with something to prove.
The job for Spoelstra now is to devise a system that will maximize Bosh’s talents while still getting the most out of Wade, who at 31 years old missed a third of the 2013-14 season because of various medical precautions and injuries.
Potentially surrounding Bosh and Wade in the Heat’s projected starting lineup for next season are point guard Mario Chalmers, now a veteran who will be entering his seventh season, McRoberts and 6-9 small forward Luol Deng, the player Riley called the Heat’s most important free agent signing in franchise history.
Motivation will be on the court in abundance.
Bosh wants to lead a franchise into the playoffs. Wade will be gunning for respect. Chalmers is seeking redemption from his struggles in the 2014 playoffs. McRoberts is out to prove he was worth the money, and Deng is out to prove he is worth more when his player option kicks in after next season.
Beyond the starters and veterans off the bench, which includes former Pacers standout Danny Granger, the Heat will feature a hopeful core of developing players. Point guard Norris Cole, who can’t seem to shake trade rumors, is looking to take the leap from solid backup to starter. Behind Cole is 2014 first-round draft pick Shabazz Napier, who starred for four years at the University of Connecticut. Napier signed his rookie contract with the Heat on Friday evening.
“Shabazz is a proven winner and one of the most mature college players that I have ever met,” Riley said. “Not only did he help lead UConn to two NCAA championships, but he also knows exactly what he needs to do to make an impact at the NBA level.
“I believe the experience he had during the Summer League is going to payoff in leaps and bounds when training camp begins.”
Napier shot around 27 percent from the field in nine games during the Orlando and Las Vegas summer leagues, so the rookie will have plenty to work on. Center Justin Hamilton, who played for the Heat’s D-League affiliate last season, was a bright spot in Las Vegas. He shot 62.9 percent while averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game.
Another young addition, James Ennis, played well in Australia last year and turned heads in Orlando when he made 10 of 12 from the field and 7 of 8 from three-point range in a game against the Brooklyn Nets’ summer-league squad. Riley and the Heat were high on both Hamilton and Ennis before summer league.
“We have two young talents that we like in James Ennis and Justin Hamilton,” Riley said before free agency.
“We’ll see in a year. I think the team needs to be layered with some young guys, and I think that’s one of our objectives next year.”
Three roster spots remain open for the Heat, which could be filled by players using the collective-bargaining agreement’s veteran’s minimum policy, or by one or two other young free agents who impress during training camp.
Needs remain for the Heat, but so, too, does talent, experience and, most importantly, pride.