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A Failed Physical Puts the Futures of Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat in Doubt

The last remaining Heatle doesn’t appear long for South Beach

Getty Images
Getty Images

The Miami Heat announced Friday that Chris Bosh had failed his preseason physical and will not be cleared to start training camp. The medical test results were not enough to assuage the team’s concerns about his long-term health (reportedly related to Bosh’s history with blood clots). This is the third straight season that blood clots have been an issue for Bosh. It’s possible this could be the end of his career. Bosh recently released a documentary that suggested he was ready to return to the court despite being told by team doctors that his career was likely over. He is not expected to file a grievance with the union after his latest setback, according to the Miami Herald.

It doesn’t feel right that a 32-year-old might have to leave the game because of his body. If this is the end of his career, he’s already built a strong case for the Hall of Fame as an 11-time All-Star and two-time champion. Bosh has three years and $75.8 million remaining on his contract, and he’ll be paid no matter what happens.

Miami can handle this in two different ways. The Heat could try to trade Bosh, though another team would have to clear him for basketball activities, which would be unlikely, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, because of “the grave dangers associated with his health plight.” It’s more probable that Miami will waive Bosh, and once February 9, 2017 (one year after his final game of the 2015–16 season), rolls around, his contract could be excluded from the team’s salary cap thanks to a CBA rule on long-term injuries. For the Heat to qualify for this exclusion, a physician selected jointly by the NBA and the players association would have to determine that Bosh’s condition is severe enough to put him at risk of a “life-threatening” or “permanently disabling” injury.

If the Heat try to qualify for the exclusion and a doctor determines that Bosh’s complications are not career ending, Bosh’s salary of $52.1 million would stay on Miami’s books, severely curbing its cap flexibility, and Bosh would be free to sign elsewhere. The Heat currently have roughly $22 million in cap space for 2017 with Bosh on the books, which wouldn’t be enough for a max contract (or even many high-end role players under an estimated $102 million cap). However, if the exclusion is granted, their spending power would soar to roughly $47 million, enough to add a max-level contract and then some.

Losing Bosh isn’t ideal. He was the common denominator of Miami’s success during and after the Big Three era. But based on the situation, it could be for the best for the Heat. They’ve already had two seasons affected by Bosh’s medical situation, and would constantly be under threat of losing more seasons if the blood clots were to reemerge in the next three years. Now that Bosh’s days with the Heat are likely numbered, the last vestiges of the Big Three utopia they created in 2010 might soon be history. If the team wants to reach those heights again, it will have to answer a couple of questions in the coming seasons.

Will Stars Still Flock to South Beach?

Should Bosh be waived, Miami, once home to the most important free-agency aquisitions in NBA history, will have lost the entirety of the Big Three. But this doesn’t change the fact that Miami is one of the league’s ultimate free-agent destinations; let’s not forget that the Heat still met with Kevin Durant during his free agency despite the murkiness of Bosh’s situation and the looming chance of losing Dwyane Wade. Miami is sexy no matter what, with no state income taxes and a notorious nightlife scene. The Heat will still have plenty of appeal with a core of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and Justise Winslow, a respected head coach in Erik Spoelstra, Pat Riley at the helm, and potential cap flexibility.

Riley has never been afraid to push all his chips to the center of the table, and it’s usually worked. Should Bosh be forced into medical retirement, the Heat could make realistic pushes for both Blake Griffin and Gordon Hayward once the team moves a small chunk of salary. Targeting players like Griffin and Hayward to add to the aforementioned core would give Miami a legitimate contender in the East, and would fall right into Riley’s history of heavy-handed wheeling and dealing.

Even if the 71-year-old Riley has patience for a full rebuild, it won’t be easy. Their draft pick reserves are depleted, with two future first-round picks owed to Phoenix and five second-round picks owed to other teams between now and 2021. The picks the Heat will have likely won’t be high, either, since the current roster is good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the East, even without Wade and Bosh (Miami had a plus-5.6 net rating with both off the floor last season, per NBA Wowy).

Will a New Leader Emerge in the Heat Locker Room?

No matter what happens with Bosh, Winslow is one of the keys to Miami’s future. The Heat sophomore could be exactly the kind of steadying presence the team needs. Multiple people in NBA circles have told me that Winslow is one of the most well-rounded rookies they’ve come across. At just 20, Winslow seems ready to take on a leadership role. He’s been a leader at every stage of his basketball life, and there’s good reason to think he can be in the pros. “His age is just a number, because it belies the approach that he brings, which is somebody of much more experience and many more years in this league,” Spoelstra said last season. “He’s got a very good head on his shoulders. He has a great approach. He has a veteran approach to the game, and it’s pure. He wants to win. He’s only about winning and getting better every single day.” There’s no question Winslow is ready to lead defensively: He always seems to come up with clutch plays, he’s consistent, and he handles all his defensive assignments. Effective defenders are generally either quick laterally or sturdy physically, but Winslow is both at a relatively elite level. He’s strong enough to hold his own, and agile enough to slide in front of speedy guards.

The real question is whether he’s ready to take on a heavy offensive role. One of the benefits of having Wade and Bosh was that it allowed Miami to ease Winslow in, but now he needs to improve rapidly, and he’ll have to do it without the benefits of being hidden. Winslow shot 41.8 percent from 3 as a Duke freshman, but that was an anomaly; he’s shot below 30 percent at nearly all other levels of competition, including 27.6 percent last year as a rookie. He shoots with a swirly arm motion that resembles a slithering snake, but the Miami Herald reports that Winslow worked with a shooting specialist this summer to change his mechanics. If it translates to the court, it’ll open up everything for him. Winslow wasn’t a threat to shoot last season, so defenders sagged off, but with extra space he could be a bowling ball of muscle, capable of attacking closeouts and drawing fouls at will. He also has superb passing instincts, so he could take on more of a playmaking role if teams feel threatened by his shot.

Even if Winslow never develops into a go-to offensive presence, he could become one of the best defensive weapons in the league and an important piece for the Heat. Without Bosh and Wade, they need Winslow to be the third cog behind Whiteside and Dragic.