Pressure Is on Big 3 to Stick Together, Not on Miami Heat to Keep Them

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Pressure Is on Big 3 to Stick Together, Not on Miami Heat to Keep Them
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Pat Riley knows what he's doing this summer.

"We don't need to rebuild," he told reporters during the opening remarks of his exit interview Thursday. "We need to retool."

The offseason objectives of the Miami Heat's three superstars, on the other hand, aren't yet set. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will all have to decide for themselves—and, perhaps, for each other—whether to exercise the early-termination options in their respective contracts by the end of business June 29.

But Riley made it clear that the onus isn't on him to lure them back to South Beach. Rather, it's on them to decide if they want to stick together, if they want to prolong this unique opportunity to win as a unit or splinter into separate enclaves elsewhere.

There's plenty on the plates of James, Wade and Bosh for them to tackle before then. First and foremost, there's the sting of a five-game shellacking at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals with which to cope.

As is the case in any postmortem, it'll take time for the Heat to process the maelstrom of emotions stemming from that series, to place it all within the context of where they are, where they've been and where they're going. They have vacation plans to see through, thoughts to collect, conversations to conduct and contingencies to consider.

Riley understands this process better than most. He's fallen short in the Finals on eight separate occasions: twice as a player, four times as a head coach and now twice as an executive. He didn't begrudge James' need to get away for a week or so. He also did not disparage LeBron's desire to explore the options at his fingertips.

What he did do, though, was lend perspective to the situation and implore everyone—players, media and fans alike—to "get a grip." Time and again, Riley hammered home the importance of "stay[ing] the course" and "stand[ing] up."

It's a course that's done quite right by Miami's Big Three, no less.

They've been to four Finals in four years—becoming just the fourth team all time, and the first in more than a quarter-century, to pull that off. Two of those have ended with the Larry O'Brien Trophy in their hands. Another Eastern Conference crown in 2015 and the Heat will stand alongside Bill Russell's Boston Celtics as the only five-time finalist in league history.

And if the Spurs join them, Riley might have another term ("three-match") to patent for his own purposes.

That's the sort of success on which Riley sold these guys back in 2010, when they were leading a free-agent feeding frenzy unlike any the NBA had ever seen and on which he harped again after the conclusion of the 2013-14 campaign. There's no need for him to pitch James and his compatriots on the possibility because they've already seen what they can do together.

Of course, Riley still has his own work cut out for him. While the Big Three deliberate, he'll be busy planning a replenishment of Miami's supporting cast.

Norris Cole is the only Heat role player who's currently under contract for 2014-15. Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen both have player options at their disposal, though Miami will need more than a couple of 30-somethings to fill out their front-court rotation.

Aside from those, every spot will be up for grabs—and you can bet Riley will know where to reach and for whom.

"Whatever it takes to keep them together, we're ready for it," Riley insisted, after placing his Big Three alongside some of the great winning combinations in NBA history.

Now, the pressure is on the superstars themselves to determine if they want to wait out the "storms and rain showers" of which Riley spoke, or if they'd rather seek sunshine in different states.

"I didn't come down here 19 years ago for a quick trip to South Beach and get a sun tan, I can guarantee you that. And I don't think they did either," Riley continued. "I think all of those guys that've come here have gotten exactly what they wanted. They got the best competition on the biggest stage." 

Still, there's a lot to consider for the Heat's stars, both individually and as a trio.

 

Wade's Way

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

For Wade, it's about what (if anything) he's willing to sacrifice, in terms of his salary and/or his role on the team, to ensure the Heat's continued success. He's not likely to leave Miami, the only city and organization that he's known since turning pro in 2003. He's won three titles with the Heat and will go down as the greatest player in franchise history—other than James, that is.

Wade's done more than enough for the Heat during his career to merit the two years and nearly $43 million remaining on his deal. Whether he'll actually be worth that, given his physical decline and the need for the team to carefully manage his minutes (often at the expense of his compatriots), is a more complicated query to address.

Riley, for his part, claimed that he won't implore Wade to relinquish salary but will instead leave it to him to decide.

"No, it's not their responsibility," Riley said. "Their responsibility is to take the best deal they can take for themselves and their family and their career from a monetary standpoint.... It's not something where I'm going to get in a room and get down on my knees. I wouldn't do that to a player.

"It's a voluntary thing on his part. It's going to have to be something that he's going to say, 'Hey, I want to do this.' Because of that, we'll take them right the way they are."

 

A Big Deal for Bosh

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

Those same words apply to Bosh as well. He too has his own interests to look after. He may want to consider a return to his home state of Texas, perhaps with the cap-flush Dallas Mavericks or the savvy Houston Rockets, after going out of his way to fit in during his first four years in Miami.

When the Heat needed someone to play center in their small-ball system, it was Bosh who stepped up, despite his desire to remain at his preferred position of power forward.

Bosh, though, hasn't said anything of late to suggest that he's at all unhappy with that arrangement or that he's displeased with the results. During an appearance on The Dan Le Batard Show in late May, Bosh insisted that he wants to stick around. "Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to go anywhere," Bosh said (via The Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser). "I like it here. It’s Miami. Everybody wants to come here. Yeah."

When asked if he'd accept another pay cut to do so—after leaving money on the table when he left the Toronto Raptors in 2010—Bosh replied, "If that’s what it takes."

Which would seem a strange stance for Bosh to take in light of how integral he is, with his ability to stretch the floor, to the Heat's success.

"We’ve said it all along, that he is arguably our most important player, and he’s had to change his game for our good as much as anybody," head coach Erik Spoelstra told Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry. "They’ve all had to change a bit, but if you watch his game from where he was in Toronto to where he is now, it’s dramatically different."

Even though his feelings about the team now are similar to what they were a few weeks ago, before Miami's push for a three-peat fell flat against San Antonio. "I love working here," Bosh said during his exit interview, via Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick. "If you love your job, that's what is most important. And we're competing. We have a chance every year." 

 

The Decision 2.0

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

They should, so long as James doesn't jump ship. According to Bleacher Report's Howard Beck, the Houston Rockets could be chief among those pursuing James' services this summer, assuming he opts out of his contract to test the free-agent market again.

That choice will likely depend on two things for James: his ability to win and his family's comfort and happiness. He'll have a better handle on how best to address those desires within the next week or so. 

According to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst, James "will take five meetings before he comes to a decision on free agency," including a vacation with his family, a huddle with his "tight inner circle," a sitdown with the Heat's brass, a talk with Carmelo Anthony and a heart-to-heart with Wade and Bosh.

At the end of all that, James will have to decide what's best for him, regardless of what it means for the Heat.

"This is time that you go home and take care of yourself," Riley said bluntly. "You look at yourself. What are you going to do to come back and make the team better? Because we have a tremendous opportunity here for long-term success, but don't think we're not going to get beat again."

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James, for one, is under no illusions that the Heat will go undefeated, that they'll simply win forever by virtue of being together.

"We're not discrediting what we were able to accomplish in these four years," James said immediately after Game 5 of the Finals, via Skolnick. "We lost one, we won two, and we lost another one. Take 50 percent in four years in championships any day. Obviously, you want to win all of them, but that's just the nature of the game. You win some, you lose some."

What's important at this point isn't that they lost but rather how they respond to their failures. "We have a chance to do something significant, but losing is just as much a part of it as winning is," Riley went on, "and when you're a team, you deal with it." 

And so the Heat's Big Three will. They'll deal with their contract options when the time comes. If free agency is the way to go, they'll deal with that, too. And if they all come back in some capacity, they'll deal with whatever new challenges lay ahead.

But that's not for Riley to decide, just as it wasn't when this super squad was but a twinkle in the eyes of those who came to constitute it. As Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski wrote back in July 2010:

At the Beijing Olympics, where LeBron James was surrounded by such talent and possibility, the Cleveland Cavaliers began to lose their star to free agency. The beginning of his departure came in small moments on the daily bus rides through the city's choking smog and bigger ones on the basketball court.

Together, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and James kept talking about the summer of 2010, about the chance of a lifetime to chase championships and roll like a touring rock band.

Their future remains in their own hands, not Riley's. All Riley can do is hope and pray with his. Make no mistake: He'll be doing just that in the weeks to come.

"We hope that all those guys want to come with us."

 

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