At almost the exact same time last season Miami Heat president Pat Riley was on the phone with the NBA league office ironing out the details of the trade that brought guard Goran Dragic to the team. At that moment he received word that forward Chris Bosh had blood clots in his lungs that would sideline him for significant time. It completely changed the outlook for Miami and led to the team missing the playoffs for only the fourth time in Riley’s tenure.
A similar scenario faces Riley again as this season’s trade deadline is less than 15 hours away.
While there is small hope that Bosh will return at some point this season, the uncertainty of when or if that happens is clouding the landscape for the Heat when the team was already serving various purposes in their chase of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Miami’s main intention as seen in the two trades the team has already conducted, both involving the Memphis Grizzlies, has been to get under the league’s salary cap to avoid luxury taxes that will be calculated at the end of the season. At the same time the Heat has been trying to find a reliable three-point shooter, something that has become a valuable asset in the modern NBA landscape and therefore not cheap.
What further complicates matters is when Bosh’s status will become more clear as he is scheduled to see specialists on Thursday right as the deadline looms.
Bosh’s absence, especially if it’s long-term, affects Miami’s roster as is drastically. He has played every game before the All-Star break and has been an anchor when playing with the Heat’s second unit.
Dragic will be affected most among the starters as he has not completely meshed well with his backcourt partner and franchise player Dwyane Wade. Dragic likes to play an up-tempo style while Wade has become more of a half-court player. Bosh on the other hand has been the starter whom Dragic has meshed with the most, especially on pick & roll sets which was expected when the trade happened last year. Should Bosh be out for an extended amount of time the Heat might decide that it would be better to trade Dragic, despite giving him a five-year $86 million extension last summer, for a cheaper point guard that fits better with Wade.
Another player affected by the absence of Bosh is center Hassan Whiteside. A revelation last season who has proven so far that it was not a fluke, Whiteside and Bosh have benefitted from each other’s skillsets. Bosh didn’t have to defend the starting centers on the opposing teams which let him focus more on attacking from the perimeter. Whiteside for his part didn’t have to step out of his comfort zone in the paint where he most effective on both sides of the court. With Bosh’s absence and his contract basically being worthless in the trade market on its own Whiteside will likely see a much larger role in the Heat offense, which will in turn raise his value in a market where the salary cap is expected to be as high as $92 million this summer. Miami doesn’t have the advantage of offering Whiteside an extra year in an extension as he has no Bird rights.
Then there are Miami’s remaining large expiring contract in forward Luol Deng. In past deadlines Deng’s $10 million contract would be a valuable asset coveted by other teams looking to gain cap space. However with said cap going up that value has diminished enough to make moving Deng hard to do as far as getting decent return back especially with Bosh out. He will likely be moved to the starting four spot by Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra, a position he does play when the Heat go small.
In this market the Miami’s lone major asset is rookie forward Justise Winslow. The fact that he is arguably the team’s best perimeter defender already while still growing his offensive arsenal makes him an attractive piece for a team to add. The Heat though have been adamant about not including Winslow in any trade scenario, something that Bosh’s absence will not change because he is a good foundation piece should the team go to a rebuilding mode.
Making a splash via trade has been one of Riley’s strengths in his nearly 21 years in Miami. Many of the trades he has been able to pull off in that time have come at the expense of either young players or draft picks. It now looks like those actions have finally caught up with the Heat as with or without Bosh almost no move the team will make this time will achieve the goal of simultaneously closing the gap with the Cavaliers, get under the luxury tax line, and still have cap room to go after forward Kevin Durant in the summer.
Having Bosh be absent for an indefinite amount of time only adds to the situation and Riley only has hours now to weigh the direction he wants the Heat to take.