What LeBron's Opt Out Means for Wade and Bosh
LeBron James is, once again, a free man. You don’t need to be told that his 2014 decision is going to cause some massive ripples around the NBA. Teams like the Lakers have already delayed their coaching search in hopes of landing LeBron (or Carmelo Anthony), letting him shape their future. Other teams (Houston? Chicago? The Clippers?) are sure to do their best to shed salary to create room under the cap to make a run.
Some of the biggest repercussions, though, are going to happen on South Beach. The two guys LeBron teamed up with back in 2010, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, also have opt-out clauses built into their deals, and both have until June 30 to either re-up for next year or test the free agency waters. And LeBron’s decision to opt out could mean major implications for the other two Miami All-Stars.
The Heat should probably still be considered heavy favorites to retain King James, and LeBron exercising his option could easily just be a means to give Miami the flexibility to make some other moves to surround James with useful talent. There’s no question that the NBA’s Godfather, Pat Riley, has plans galore to sell LeBron on. But first, Riely will have to do some work on his other two stars.
What Will Wade Do?
Four years ago, James was bashed for joining Wade’s team and linking up with a former rival. That’s laughable now, as LeBron has cemented his position as the best player in the league by a wide margin and one of the greatest of all time, while Wade’s knees have turned him into a true liability for the Heat. Sure, Wade’s numbers were very solid and the most efficient of his career, but they came in 54 games as he sat out seemingly whenever he woke up not feeling 100 percent as part of his maintenance program.
Now, we’re going to see what D-Wade is really about: diamond-encrusted rings or paychecks with lots of zeroes. To put it simply, Miami can't afford to pay anyone $41 million over the next two seasons to play 65 percent of the season (less, if Wade’s health continues to deteriorate in the future). James came to Miami to get the help he needed to win a ring, and he got two out of it. But watching Wade crumble every time he was on the floor without James in their Finals whitewashing, it became painfully obvious that Wade’s days as a championship-changing playmaker are over.
If Wade wants to add to his trophy case, accepting a pay cut and a reduced role for the Heat are both going to be necessities. On the latter point, he’s already done that. Wade’s usage rate (the percentage of possessions he finishes with either a basket, foul or turnover while on the floor) was the second-lowest of his career this past year, just edging out 2012-13 for that slot. But what would suit Wade the most would be a Manu Ginobili-like role, where he comes off the bench to spark the offense for short stretches. Wade will be 33 next year; Ginobili averaged 30 minutes per game in his age-33 season, and 23 minutes in the following two years. If Erik Spoelstra could limit Wade’s minutes in that manner, there probably wouldn’t be as much of a need to sit him 28 games per season.
The real question for Wade is going to be punctuated with dollar signs. Wade has made it clear that he doesn’t have any intention to leave money on the table; nor should he. D-Wade is a surefire Hall of Famer who raised the Heat franchise. He’s the reason they were able to lure James and Bosh in the first place. But $41 million is a ton of money to have invested in a player who can no longer play a full season and is best suited for a bench role.
If Wade is most concerned with winning championships, he’ll opt out and re-sign at a steep discount to give the Heat the flexibility to bring in some much-needed help. But he earned the contract he signed, and he’s more than entitled to exercise his options for the next two years. He’ll just have to live with the fact that doing so could cost him more rings and/or the best teammate anyone has ever had.
Will Bosh Fly the Coop?
At this point in their careers, Bosh is far more important to Miami’s success than Wade. He contributed 8 win shares in the regular season and another 2 in the playoffs, while Wade finished with 5.5 and 1.2, respectively. His nERD score was also 2.6 points higher (6.2 versus 3.6). Even that underlies Bosh’s importance; he’s an excellent defender, even if he does struggle against some centers, and he’s one of the very best mid-range shooters in the league. He’s expanded his range out past the three-point line and has become LeBron’s most reliable escape valve, as evidenced by the multiple late-game kick out passes James made to Bosh throughout the 2014 playoffs.
CB has made his intentions of staying in Miami completely public knowledge, even going as far as to say that he’ll sign for a discounted rate. And that’s a good thing, because Bosh is set to make a little under $43 million if he opts into the final two seasons of his contract. While Bosh is three years younger than Wade, he is nearly 900 games and 32,000 minutes into his career, including the postseason. He certainly has some good days ahead of him, so the Heat wouldn’t be paying for past performance as much as they would be for Wade, but Bosh has shown some signs of decline. His free throws per game were the lowest they’ve been since his rookie season, and his free throw rate (free throw attempts per field goal attempt) was at its lowest of his career. And Bosh also pulled down his fewest rebounds per game since entering the league along with his third-lowest rebound rate.
While some of those deficiencies can be credited to the fact that Bosh is now more or less a perimeter player on the offensive end, it’s still troubling how little time he spent around the hoop.
We know that Bosh wants to stay in Miami and will take a pay cut to do so, but should he? He's still only going to be 30 next season, with plenty more productive years left in his legs (as well as money to be earned). Bosh obviously doesn’t care what the general public thinks about him, and he’s totally focused on adding championships to his resume. The nine-time All-Star would have plenty of suitors on the open market, although none of them is going to be able to offer a playmaker like LeBron. But if James does leave Miami, Bosh should probably look around at his options to find a situation that will best benefit the skill set he’s reshaped and refined since heading to Miami.
There have been reports that James, Wade and Bosh will sit down together in the coming days to discuss their options. It’ll be an interesting conversation, and it could lead to the dismantling of a modern-day dynasty, or a retooling of one to keep it going for another four years. Just a ho-hum start to a boring NBA summer, right?