The release brought relief, among those following the Chris Bosh saga and, more importantly, for many members of the Heat organization. After three months of proceeding on different pages, the Bosh camp and Heat officials finally came together long enough to carefully craft Wednesday’s 52-word shared statement.
No, as the Heat and Bosh announced, in the first of two sentences, the 11-time All-Star “will not be playing in the remainder of the 2016 NBA playoffs.”
This was no surprise to anyone close to this story. The Heat has been steadfast regarding its reluctance to put Bosh back in a precarious health position, for his own safety first, but also with liability concerns that a waiver wouldn’t alleviate. Plus, it never made sense that the NBA Players Association would press the Heat to play Bosh; its mandate is to ensure players get paid (Bosh receives the rest of his contract regardless) while protecting them from physical danger.
Still, even if shutting down Bosh was expected, and even if there are hurdles ahead — over which the parties may not leap hand-in-hand — this measure of temporary finality was welcome. The Heat has been trying to release something resembling Wednesday’s statement since Bosh’s latest clotting episode at the All-Star break in February; instead, it respected Bosh’s wishes and medical privacy laws, and watched as Bosh, released his own statement through an outside P.R. firm one month later, saying he was “positive” about his return this season.
So this was needed.
It was needed to slide the story out of the national sphere, especially with more eyes turning toward a possible Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland, which will mean more specious reports from powerful media platforms. It was needed to curb some awkwardness, with Bosh a closely-guarded ghost around familiar media members. It was needed to reduce irritating queries of players, at least after Thursday’s shootaround, where Bosh wasn’t present.
“We’ve had clarification, but I think this will put the storyline at ease out there,” Erik Spoelstra said. “Look, I love Chris. I feel for him not being able to participate in the playoffs right now, but he’s still very much a big part of this and that leadership that he showed in the huddle between regulation and overtime is absolutely C.B. at his essence.”
Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, Bosh’s two longest-tenured teammates, both shared similar sentiments — and, contrary to recent custom, their comments about Bosh’s situation were put on Heat.com for public viewing. Wade characterized the statement as meant to “just focus on the playoffs, and not have a lot of stories out there about ‘what if’s.’ Focus on the team that’s on the basketball court.” Haslem called Bosh “like a brother to me,” one with whom he wished he was still “battling every night; but there’s just another plan for some reason.”
The Heat captain meant the plan of some higher power than Bosh or the Heat, they claim to have one now: to work “together... to return Chris to playing basketball as soon as possible.” That’s intentionally open-ended. Could be next season. Could be never, if the Heat never gets comfortable with the consensus opinion about his condition, related to potential life-threatening trauma or merely strong risk of recurrence.
With Bosh’s contract counting against the salary cap until at least February 2017, even if he never again takes the court, the Heat must operate as if he’s part of the team, but not necessarily part of the master plan. As difficult as this will be, the Heat must evaluate the worth of pending free agents Hassan Whiteside and Luol Deng — each flourishing with altered roles in Bosh’s absence — based on how they fit if Bosh is not in the lineup. Bosh’s return must be recast as an unanticipated bonus.
The front office can take lessons on moving forward from its current tough-minded squad, which entered Thursday’s Game 2 with a 24-13 record since Bosh was sidelined.
Deng, speaking to the Herald, credited Bosh and the organization “for keeping the media out of it.” (The organization has tried, even as the Bosh side went more public recently, on social media and with some “Bring Bosh Back” t-shirts spotted at the arena Sunday.)
Deng added that, since players hear and read what’s said and written, more mixed media messages would have led them to “think he’s coming back.” This happened to Deng’s Bulls teams, relative to Derrick Rose.
“There’s always that in the back of your mind,” Deng said. “What we’ve been able to do, and what the organization did so great is, just go out there and play with the guys that you have. If Chris comes back, we’ll work back into it. But as of right now, just think of it as ‘this is the group, this is what you’ve got to do.’ It’s really allowed us to be able to play.”
They’ve played their way into the second round. Now, as much as they miss their “brother” on the court, they can play with freer minds.