Shane Battier said farewell to the Miami Heat and the NBA on Tuesday. He headed off to a career as a college basketball broadcaster, memoir author and, possibly someday, mayor or senator.
“God bless America!” Battier said as he waved goodbye with a politico’s smile and wink.
Battier left feeling a sense of empathy for Heat teammates LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who face difficult decisions in the coming weeks about their future as the Big 3.
“It all comes down to a sliding scale for everyone in this league,” Battier said. “You have to weigh the calculation: ‘Do I want to win or get paid?’ ”
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After a thrashing by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, it’s clear the Heat must receive a roster transfusion. New blood doesn’t come cheap, however, and the burdensome salaries of James, Wade and Bosh combined with the NBA’s salary cap make it impossible to sign meaningful upgrades at positions of need.
Unless they take a pay cut.
Nobody wanted to discuss that delicate topic two days after losing Game 5 and the chance for a three-peat in San Antonio. Players are still decompressing. James just wants to go on vacation. Bosh slept all day Monday. Wade chose not to appear at the team’s postseason news conference.
But they know what is looming: Sacrifice money for a better shot at a fifth consecutive trip to the Finals or keep the contracts they signed in 2010 and brace for more disappointment.
They won’t know the outcome until next June. Either plan could go horribly awry. That’s sports.
But soon they will have to prioritize: Money in the bank or another trophy on the shelf?
“I just want to win,” James said. “That’s all that matters with me. I’ve been to five Finals, but on the other end I’ve lost three of them. That doesn’t sit well with me at all.”
The Decision for James this time around should not be nearly as emotional or scrutinized as it was when he left Cleveland for Miami. He has a very good thing going here, one that can get back on track with augmentation in personnel. Fleeing to Los Angeles, Chicago or Houston — where he would likely have to accept less pay anyway — would present significant tradeoffs.
James can opt out of his six-year deal that pays him $20.6 million next season and $22.1 million in 2015-2016. So can Bosh, who would earn the same as James, and so can Wade, who would earn $20.2 and $21.7 million. Then they would re-sign for far less and the Heat would go after an unrestricted free agent.
San Antonio’s stars have sacrificed in order to stay together. Tim Duncan made $11.5 million this year, Tony Parker made $12.5 million and Manu Ginobili made $7 million. The Oklahoma City Thunder could not make it work financially with its Big 3; consequently, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook haven’t been back to the Finals without James Harden.
Of course, it’s easy to ask fabulously wealthy athletes to take less for the good of the team. The Heat’s Big 3 did it when they created an alliance four years ago. Bosh seems optimistic they will do it again.
“I have to hear what’s on those guys’ minds and we have to collaborate,” he said. “I love working here. I want to be here. We’ve been one of the last two on the hill every time.”
Both players said they need to talk to their families and their agents. But most of all, they need to talk to each other.
Key to their decisions is the faith they have in Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra.
“We have holes that need to be filled,” James said. “That’s what Riles is so great at. Spo can see who we need to get better.”
Said Bosh: “Whatever it takes for us to keep competing. I’m sure Riley has a finite plan. We’ll listen to him, get his feel for the situation.”
The toughest questions face Wade, which may have been why he didn’t want to answer any Tuesday. His diminished play in the Finals, after missing a third of the regular season to protect his knees, makes him a prime target for the pay cut argument. But remember, it was Wade’s selfless lobbying and sacrificing that was the genesis of the Big 3.
“Ten days ago people were saying Dwyane was at his highest level in three years,” Spoelstra said in defense of Wade, adding that the difference in the Finals was not Wade’s play but the fact that Miami “got beat by a better team,” he said emphasizing the word team.
Expect Riley to convince Wade to opt out of his contract and open the door for a Heat makeover.
There’s also pressure on owner Micky Arison on whether to use his $3.2 million exception on a player and pay the punitive luxury tax. He didn’t do it last year on Mike Miller.
For Battier, the choice was to come to Miami and win or go to Toronto and make a bundle.
“It was an investment rather than a cash grab,” he said. “I knew I would best be served by a championship on my résumé.”
If the Big 3 can remain glued together and add some energy, the Heat can regain the edge, just as San Antonio did following its loss in 2013.
“The wins were a relief and losses just nagged at us this year,” Battier said of a mostly joyless Heat season. “After success, you become numb to certain things. When you reach that point it’s dangerous for a team. The Lakers went through the same thing.
“The Heat can get that edge again. I’m confident these guys will make the right decisions.”