So, what does Chris Bosh’s latest setback mean for the Heat?
Two things right off the bat:
▪ If a doctor who is jointly selected by the league and players association agree Bosh’s condition is career-ending, or severe enough to put him at risk if he continues playing, the $25.3 million and $26.8 million he’s guaranteed to earn in 2017-18 and 2018-19 can be cleared off the Heat’s salary cap if the team applies for it after Feb. 9, the anniversary of Bosh’s last game. It would give team president Pat Riley potentially as much as $42 million in cap space to go shopping for the league’s best available free agents next summer.
▪ On the court, Bosh’s loss creates a sizable void for the franchise this season and beyond — beginning with the 11-time All-Star’s scoring ability and leadership.
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Before Bosh failed a physical this week after doctors discovered evidence of continued clotting, the Heat was very much hoping it would have him back on the court this season.
Bosh released a video statement late Friday night on uninterrupted.com.
Last season, Bosh was averaging a team-high 19.1 points and leading the team in three-point shooting (36.5 percent) before doctors found a clot in his calf two days before he was set to compete in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend in Toronto. The belief was a healthy Bosh, 32, could return to that level of play.
With Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson all leaving for new teams in free agency this summer, Bosh was going to be an important scorer for the Heat, and his leadership was going to be invaluable.
If he doesn’t return, it leaves the Heat with only three players 30 years of age or older on the roster — Udonis Haslem (36), Beno Udrih (34) and Goran Dragic (30) — and with only two players on the roster who averaged double digits in scoring last season, center Hassan Whiteside (14.2 points per game) and Dragic (14.1).
Earlier this week, the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas projected the Heat at 36.5 wins for this coming season, tied with Orlando for the third-fewest wins in the Eastern Conference and tied for the seventh-fewest in the league overall. Since Riley joined the Heat in 1995, the franchise has missed the playoffs only four times and had fewer than 36 wins in a non-shortened season only once (2007-08).
With Bosh, the Heat appeared to have a formidable lineup in place with Dragic, Whiteside, newcomer Dion Waiters projected to start at shooting guard and second-year standout Justise Winslow playing alongside Bosh in the front court.
Bosh’s void opens the door to various possibilities for coach Erik Spoelstra, who has never been shy about playing smaller, athletic lineups. Spoelstra has plenty of guards on the roster to choose from in three-point specialist Wayne Ellington (6-4, 200), third-year combo guard Tyler Johnson (6-4, 186) and second-year combo guard Josh Richardson (6-6, 200), all capable of providing some scoring punch.
If Spoelstra decides to replace Bosh with a prototypical frontcourt player in the starting lineup, he could turn to 6-9, 250-pound veteran James Johnson (he started 32 games for the Toronto Raptors last season and is considered a strong defensive player), former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams (an athletic, 6-8, 240-pound combo forward who averaged 9.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in 17.9 minutes with the Knicks last season) or veteran Josh McRoberts, who has struggled and dealt with injuries for most of his first two seasons with the Heat.
If Spoelstra wants a stretch four in the starting lineup, he could turn to 6-9, 225-pound shooter Luke Babbitt, who made 40.4 percent of his three-point attempts last season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Richardson (sprained MCL) and McRoberts (foot) are both dealing with injuries at the start of camp. Williams, Johnson and Babbitt are all free agents after this coming season.
And that’s ultimately where not having a healthy Bosh hurts the Heat the most. NBA All-Stars certainly don’t grow on trees, and although the Heat will receive salary cap relief if Bosh’s career is over (he would have to be cleared to play and then play in at least 25 games for another team to jump back on the Heat’s salary cap in the future), the free agent pool next summer isn’t exactly brimming with big-name players.
Although the potential free agent list includes names like two-time MVP Stephen Curry, former MVP Kevin Durant, nine-time All-Star Chris Paul and five-time All-Star and former No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin, odds are none of those players will be optioning out of their contracts to leave the Warriors and Clippers, respectively. That leaves Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and Hawks forward Paul Millsap as the biggest available names in free agency — and that’s only if they decide to back out of player options for the 2017-18 season.
Other nonrestricted potential free agents include: Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday, Magic forward Serge Ibaka, Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari, Pacers point guard Jeff Teague, Knicks point guard Derrick Rose, Kings forward Rudy Gay, Warriors forward Andrew Iguodala, and Wade, if he decides to leave his hometown Chicago Bulls after one season. Wade would also have to leave $23.8 million on the table at age 35.
Unless he agrees to retire or to a buyout, the Heat will most likely have to keep Bosh on the roster of 15 until Feb. 9. Once Bosh is gone, the Heat will have nine players under contract (assuming none of the rookies or Briante Weber are kept on the roster) for next season and $66 million tied into them. That would leave the team roughly $34.2 million in available cap space.
But if Riley lets Ellington walk before July 12, 2017, it would save an additional $6.2 million off the cap. And if Waiters, who has a player option for only $3 million next season, decides to enter free agency, that would leave the team an additional $9.2 million in cap space, bringing the total to a little more than $42 million in available cap space.
If Riley isn’t intrigued by any high-end free agents next summer, he could trade for a disgruntled star looking for a fresh start in a new city in midseason, or turn the Heat’s focus to landing a potential star in the draft. Miami owns its 2017 first-round pick, it’s 2018 second-round pick and 2019 and 2020 first-round picks.
Of the six top prospects in next year’s draft, three are point guards: Washington’s Markelle Fultz (6-5, 186), N.C. State’s Dennis Smith (6-2, 175), and Frank Ntilinkin, a 6-5, 170-pound French prodigy.
If Miami likes a point guard in free agency or one in the draft, Riley could move Dragic, a former All-NBA third team point guard who is relatively cheap, for a player that could strengthen the team at another position of need such as shooting guard or power forward.
Either way, the Heat is in a position it hasn’t been in years.
With Bosh’s playing future in doubt, there’s no other current or former All-Star on the Heat’s roster. That hasn’t happened at all during Riley’s first 21 years in Miami and not for the franchise overall since the 1993-94 season.