For Chris Bosh, it was more about coming back than leaving.
Most of the Heat’s players cleaned out their lockers on Friday at AmericanAirlines Arena, shook hands with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and then lamented a failed season one last time with reporters. Then there was Bosh, who showed up for exit interviews just to let everyone know he wasn’t going anywhere.
On a day of reflection, Bosh’s perspective was unique. That’s usually the case with one of the more interesting personalities in professional sports, but especially under these circumstances. Not long ago, while lying in a hospital bed with clotted blood stopping up his lungs, he thought his career might be over.
“I’ve had time to do a lot of thinking, and I just thought as I got ill, I miss basketball. I miss it,” Bosh said. “And now I’ve still got five more months.”
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Never mind those blown leads this season and bad losses to the 76ers, Pistons, Bucks and every other struggling team in the NBA, Bosh’s diagnoses with a blood clot in February was the low point for the Heat. That’s moment that defined this season of suffering, and that’s the moment that will inspire this offseason.
Bosh is coming back, and he says he’s coming back “waaaaay better” than ever. From that, the Heat can begin preparing for next season.
“Maybe this is what I need,” Bosh said. “I need to recharge my passion because I was getting beat down a little bit over the last four years. Now is an opportunity to really go back in the lab and work on my game.”
That goes for the entire team, from shooting guard Dwyane Wade, who said on Friday that he still has “a few good years” left in his career, to center Hassan Whiteside, who showed potential this season, but shouldn’t take much pride in being a good player on a bad team.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he wants his players taking a few weeks off “to decompress,” but after that it’s back to work. For Spoelstra, Heat president Pat Riley and the rest of the Heat’s upper management, this summer will be about planning for the draft and free agency. For the veteran players, it will be about resting after five seasons of nearly continuous basketball.
For others, this extended offseason will be about player development.
“You can see the individual talent,” Bosh said. “The individual talent is there. We just have to work on putting it together. That’s what it’s all about. I think next year we really will be functioning as a team.”
The first order of business is identifying players in the draft who fit into the Heat’s system. The Heat’s scouting department is already at work sorting through available players, and it will bring some prospects in for workouts leading up to the draft.
After that it’s free agency and then designing a system for next season. Spoelstra emphasized during his exit interview that he wants to return in the offseason with a team recommitted to playing at an accelerated tempo. The Heat started this season wanting to push the pace, but then slowed it down after replacing power forward Josh McRoberts with Whiteside.
Spoelstra said his message will be clear when the Heat reconvenes for preseason training camp: “Pace, speed and quickness. Let’s go.”
The Heat’s coach says Whiteside has the athleticism to adapt.
“It’s a great presence to have a big center at the rim to give you paint opportunities, but there’s no question I want to play faster next year, and to be able to play with pace. Now, Hassan has a great skill set and ability and athleticism to do both, which is very unique, and it’s one of the reasons why he jumps out at you so much.
“He can play different styles.”
While Whiteside will play an important role, the pace Spoelstra craves ultimately will come from the team’s point guard, and the Heat is hopeful that player will be Goran Dragic. As expected, Dragic is opting out of his current contract to become a free agent this summer. The Heat can offer Dragic a five-year deal at the league’s maximum ($109 million), or negotiate a smaller salary to maybe bring in a quality role player or two to bolster the roster.
After finalizing a deal, the Heat can then start developing its offense around Dragic’s skill set.
“We really, officially, can’t cross that bridge until July,” Spoelstra said. “We won’t be idle. I can promise you that. The motivation of how we feel right now is going to motivate our staff the entire offseason.
“One of Goran’s strengths is his pace and speed of play. That was our design coming into training camp this year anyway without him with the personnel we had. Ideally, if we bring back the majority of the personnel we thought we were going to be able to play, it makes even more sense.”
▪ Dragic is returning to Europe this summer for the offseason. On upcoming his free agency: “My first plan to is go home and rest for one month and clear my head, and then I will sit down with my family and go through all the options and make the best decision. I had a great time here in Miami. I want to come back, but we’ll see what will happen.”