This wasn't supposed to happen.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were planning on leading the Miami Heat to a third championship in three years, joining the Minneapolis Lakers, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers in the ultra-exclusive three-peat club.
However, as Robert Burns might have written in 2014, even the best-laid plans often go awry.
The San Antonio Spurs thoroughly embarrassed the Heat, storming out to a 3-1 series lead, one punctuated by an all-out assault in Game 3 and then another rout in Game 4. They closed things out handily with a 104-87 win in Game 5 at home.
Now, the biggest question for Miami no longer involves the pursuit of a championship, but rather the ability to keep a certain Big Three in place.
As Bleacher Report's Howard Beck explains in the above video, Bosh, Wade and James all have contract options for the 2014-15 season. They can choose to terminate their deals early and hit the open market as unrestricted free agents, either planning to re-sign with Miami—maybe even for less so they can lure another key player—or take their Hall of Fame-worthy resumes elsewhere.
So, will this embarrassing loss in the NBA Finals have any bearing on the future of the three All-Stars who currently call South Beach home?
The 30-year-old big man is often treated as an afterthought, but he proved throughout the 2013-14 campaign that he was a reliable option.
Not only did he show time and time again that he was capable of coming up big in the situations that mattered most, but the development of his three-point stroke gave the Heat a whole new offensive option. Few bigs could hope to stick with Bosh on the perimeter, and he consistently opened things up for his driving teammates.
In fact, Erik Spoelstra even called Bosh the Heat's most important player after his heroics in Game 2 of the Finals:
Erik Spoelstra on Chris Bosh: "With us, arguably our most important player and it’s not just because of that shot."— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 9, 2014
That's probably a bit of a timely exaggeration, seeing as LeBron quite clearly affects the outcome of Heat contests rather significantly, but it's not all that hyperbolic. Even though Bosh is a lackluster rebounder and defender, his shooting and overall versatility is quite crucial.
But does that mean he'll stay?
If the big man—a power forward who's been acting as a center—decides to leave, it'll be because he hasn't received enough opportunities within the Miami offense.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Bosh's usage rate was only 22.6 percent during the 2013-14 season, the second-lowest mark he's produced since his sophomore season with the Toronto Raptors. And NBA.com's SportVU databases paint a similar picture.
The nine-time All-Star received only 50.1 touches per game this year, which was the No. 115 mark in the Association. And many of those touches were brief ones, as his 1.1 minutes of possession each contest ranked him at No. 253.
Chances are, he could find a much larger role elsewhere. He even expressed his frustration after receiving only 12 offensive touches in Game 3, per Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post:
I’m not gonna make this about me; this is about the team. When we move the ball side to side, everybody touches the ball. We all have to be a part of it, and I’m a major part of it. If the ball’s not moving side to side, we’re all gonna suffer. I’m gonna suffer, too.
I had my opportunities and I was in the right places, but it wasn't going from side to side. Against a good defensive team like that, you’re helping them if you don’t move it.
Bosh has consistently been a good teammate, and you won't ever find him putting himself above the team. You know, which is exactly what he'd be doing if he opted out.
Even though he's a legitimate All-Star and could challenge the 20-point threshold on a regular basis in a different location, Bosh is no longer a player capable of carrying a squad into the postseason. Frankly, he had enough trouble doing that during his Toronto career, long before age sapped some of his athleticism and left him playing more on the perimeter than ever before.
Losing in the Finals isn't going to change Bosh's desires, simply because he recognizes his importance as a behind-the-scenes—but still crucial—cog in the system. If Wade or LeBron leaves, he might try to follow them, but he won't lead any sort of exodus.
Wade is the Miami Heat.
He might not be the best player on the roster anymore, something he seems to have accepted over the last few seasons, but the future Hall of Famer is still virtually synonymous with the franchise he's always played for.
There are certain standouts who will never put on another jersey.
Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks go hand in hand. Tim Duncan donning anything other than a Spurs uniform would be pure blasphemy. Picturing Kobe Bryant in something that isn't purple and gold is just foolish. Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics will never undergo a divorce.
Well, I suppose it is possible for a player so tied to a team to make such a drastic change, but it's highly unlikely. And Wade hasn't reached the pure ring-chasing stage of his career, unlike Pierce.
Even though the 2-guard was born in Chicago and stayed in Illinois for prep school, he's still identified with Miami. Even though he travelled to Wisconsin and went to Marquette for his collegiate career, he's still completely intertwined with South Beach.
When the Heat selected him at No. 5 in the 2003 NBA draft, Wade's blood was essentially replaced with the essence of Miami. It became his life force, and the two entities—city and player—entered into quite a symbiotic relationship.
Back in 2010, even before he'd won back-to-back titles, there was a unanimous vote to rename Miami-Dade County as "Miami-Wade County" for a week, per ESPN.com news services. And to his credit, Wade has been nothing but loyal to his franchise, winning on the court and helping establish multiple charities throughout the Floridian city.
How could he leave all that behind?
Wade, like Rudy Gay, would be an idiot not to opt in. Both would be stealing a lot of money.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) June 13, 2014
He couldn't, especially given his declining level of play and his contract situation. According to ShamSports.com, Wade is set to earn over $20 million during the 2014-15 season alone, and he'd also have a $21.7 million player option during the ensuing campaign.
That's more money than any contract he'd sign as a free agent, given the state of his knees, his waning explosiveness and his inconsistent focus on the defensive end of the court. Only a legacy deal in Miami, similar to the type Kobe signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, could come close.
In other words, he ain't leaving.
And that means there's only one player who could break up the Big Three.
If any player is going to flee Miami for another location, it's LeBron.
After all, championships are his driving force now, and they'll be one of the few things that matter when evaluating his future, with the happiness of his family in South Beach being another.
So, can he win a third title in Miami?
Yes, even though he failed to do so during the 2014 Finals, dropping his record in the last series of the NBA playoffs to just 2-3. If Wade—even in his declining state—and Bosh are still in place, there's one man who can keep the Heat in the realm of title contenders.
As Sam Amick makes clear for USA Today, James has plenty of confidence in the Miami front office:
James' respect and affection for this Heat organization has certainly grown in his time here, and the proven track records of owner Micky Arison and team President Pat Riley ultimately may give James the faith to believe they'll find a way to retool and remain elite if he stays (with Carmelo Anthony's help or otherwise).
Only Norris Cole is guaranteed to be on the roster next season, which means that Riley will have a chance to retool a disappointing bench while practically starting from scratch. The ill effects of age and the misfires named Michael Beasley and Greg Oden ultimately hurt Miami's chances of dismantling the San Antonio machine, as the key players wore down and the supporting cast wasn't up to the task.
But Riley is always willing to spend money, assuming that's what's necessary to bring another Larry O'Brien Trophy to AmericanAirlines Arena.
Additionally, no other team presents LeBron with such a certain situation.
What happens to the Big Three?
Not the Los Angeles Lakers, whose roster is in shambles outside of Kobe Bryant, who won't even be there past the next two seasons. Not the up-and-coming Cleveland Cavaliers, who have plenty of unestablished talent but aren't ready to compete right now. Not the New York Knicks, who would have to ship off virtually everyone to make room for LeBron.
LeBron knows that his dynamic with Wade and Bosh works. So long as they're staying, he's staying, too.