Basketball pundits remain fixated on the frenzy emanating from the respective free agencies of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, but another, less-heralded member of the Miami Heat’s “Big Three” has the ability to change the NBA landscape this offseason.
In many ways, neither of the two headliners can make a decision until Chris Bosh, the 30-year-old power forward who played alongside James in Miami for the past four years, makes a decision. Unlike the convoluted mass of potential transactions that surrounds the league’s pursuit of Anthony and James, Bosh’s choice is relatively straightforward; he can either take a pay cut to help sustain the “Big Three” in Miami, or abandon James in favor of a more lucrative standing offer from the Houston Rockets.
The Rockets extended a four-year, $88 million maximum contract offer to Bosh on Tuesday, a deal that Miami simply can’t afford to match. Bosh has told Heat executives that he’d accept a pay cut on a five-year deal in the $80 million to $90 million range to return to the franchise, but the team has lowballed that threshold in a bid to preserve as much cap space as possible for other free agents, ESPN reported.
In addition to the better financial terms of the Rockets' offer, Bosh would have a better supporting cast in Houston than he would in Miami, even if the Heat manage to successfully lure James back to South Beach. The Rockets have a defensive stalwart at center in Dwight Howard, a top-five scorer at shooting guard in James Harden and a rising star at small forward in Chandler Parsons (currently a restricted free agent). At best, a return to Miami would have Bosh playing alongside James, oft-injured fading stars in Dwyane Wade and Danny Granger, and a pair of inconsistent point guards in Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers.
While Bosh is said to be “seriously considering” Houston’s offer, the consensus among league executives is that he wants to play alongside James, his close friend and the man who originally convinced him to sign with the Heat.
If Bosh were to sign with the Rockets, his departure would force James to reconsider his options. As with Bosh, league executives believe that James prefers to return to Miami, but he’s been quite clear that his sole focus is to play for a perennially-competitive basketball team. Bosh’s absence would leave a gaping hole in the Heat frontcourt and could spur James to head elsewhere.
Several NBA franchises have made it clear that they’ll do whatever they can to craft a roster that would suit James’ preferences. For example, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are considered a frontrunner in the race to acquire James, agreed in principle to a three-team trade on Wednesday, sending Jarrett Jack to the Brooklyn Nets and Tyler Zeller and Sergey Karasev to the Boston Celtics.
If completed when the league lifts its freeze on transactions on Thursday, the deal would allow the Cavaliers to shed more than $20 million in salary -- money which could then be used to offer James his desired max contract. In addition, Cleveland has reportedly spoken to free agent veterans Ray Allen and Mike Miller, each of whom won an NBA championship with James in Miami.
James has close relationships with both men, and sources told Yahoo Sports that James reached out to the two men, one of whom was Miller, about the possibility of playing together if he left Miami. The addition of Miller and Allen, coupled with the Cavaliers’ existing core of All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving and 2014 first overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins, would make Cleveland an enticing destination for James.
The plot thickens with Anthony. While prevailing wisdom suggests that he’ll re-sign with the Knicks this offseason, an element within the organization believes that Anthony is waiting to see where James signs before he makes a decision of his own, the New York Post reported. At present, the race for Anthony’s services is considered to be a three-team race between the Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls.
A completed deal between Bosh and the Rockets would create a fourth option -- the formation of a new “Big Three” in Miami, composed of James, Anthony and Wade. The Heat could use the cap space vacated by Bosh to sign Anthony. Several NBA franchises are wary of this possibility, ESPN's Marc Stein notes.
Anthony and the Heat were first linked in June, when rumors circulated that team president, Pat Riley, had explored the feasibility of creating a “Big Four.” Riley referred to the idea as a “pipe dream,” but Bosh’s departure could lead to Anthony's arrival in Miami.
In essence, Bosh’s decision is intrinsically linked to each of these scenarios -- any one of which would have major implications on the NBA’s ever-shifting balance of power.