Is Chris Bosh Still Worth a Max Contract to Miami Heat in Free Agency?

Dylan MurphyFeatured ColumnistJune 26, 2014

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat looks to shoot against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Chris Bosh's role on the Miami Heat has always been somewhat muted. As the third wheel in the Big Three, his offensive statistics have suffered—the offense simply doesn't revolve around him.

Now that Bosh might opt out of his contract as the Heat tinker with—or possibly overhaul—their roster, a more certain valuation must be placed on his contributions. Heading into the 2010 offseason, it was hardly a question that Bosh was a max-contract-type player. He was the unquestioned leader of the Toronto Raptors and the only reason why the team approached the playoffs each year.

But four years into Miami's Big Three experiment, is Bosh still worth a max contract? 

Due to the tighter cap restrictions of the new collective bargaining agreement, max contracts are simply harder to give out. With less cap flexibility, every dollar must be portioned out a bit more carefully. Slipping above the tax line now yields a hefty penalty, and even the richest teams in the league are unwilling to shoulder it. 

Add to that Bosh's four extra years of experience in the NBA—the value of a max contract is dependent on how long a player has been in the league—and he's actually a more expensive player now than he was in 2010. 

When Bosh was initially an unrestricted free agent back in 2010, he was a seven-year veteran. According to Larry Coon's CBA FAQ, the maximum contract for a seven-year veteran is 30 percent of the current cap. Now that Bosh is an 11-year veteran, that bumps up his max to 35 percent.

Now, Bosh didn't take the maximum salary that year. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh all sacrificed a bit of money to give Miami some flexibility under the cap to fill out the rest of the roster.

If all three decide to end up with Miami once again next season, we can reasonably expect the same thing to happen this time around. But that comes with the assumption that Bosh, Wade and James are all worth the max in the first place. 

There's little question that Bosh, at the very least, is more valuable to Miami than Wade at this point in their careers. Wade, quite simply, is breaking down physically and can no longer throw his body around with the reckless abandon that made him such an effective player on both ends.  

But neither Wade nor Bosh are as valuable without James. Signing either to any significant deal without the addition of James only ensures a possible playoff spot; there's no way Miami would continue contending for a title. 

And even with James, handing Bosh a max deal along with James would eat up 70 percent of the cap. If both players take less—say, five percent less each—that's still 60 percent of the cap with only 40 percent of the projected 63.2 million (approximately $25 million) to surround them with quality players. As we saw in this year's NBA Finals, Miami certainly needs more talent than its stars.

On the surface, then, it would seem that Bosh isn't quite worth that max deal. Yes, he's a crucial piece to the Miami puzzle, but tying up a significant portion of the cap in one player is a dangerous game, especially when that player isn't even the best player on your team or in the top 10 of the league. 

Still, James needs Bosh. His versatility on both ends of the floor allows James to excel in his greatest areas of strength. Instead of crowding the paint as another big while James posts up smaller defenders, Bosh can stretch the defense all the way out to the three-point line. He can pick-and-pop. He can pick-and-roll. If James is able to do everything on offense from a wing perspective, Bosh has that same ability as a big.

But the real key is Bosh's ability to dip in and out of the offense as a key cog. Most Miami offensive possessions over the last few years didn't even feature him. He was a screener, a cutter or some other type of decoy action. Only rarely—and when he was in a slump—did Erik Spoelstra call plays geared to him. He was able to get his offense in the flow, which is key when a team is trying to feature the best player in the world as much as possible.

That's what happens here during the Finals against San Antonio, as Bosh's only role in the play design is to set a screen for Wade and space to the corner. But eventually he catches a pass from James, pump fakes to blow by Boris Diaw and finishes through contact at the rim. 

Very few bigs can draw a reaction on that pump fake because they can't shoot. Very few bigs can put the ball on the floor and drive all the way from the perimeter. Very few bigs can finish through contact. Bosh can do all of that consistently, and shows it here. 

When plays broke down, he was also good enough to create his own offense, therefore salvaging what would have otherwise been a poor possession. This was crucial in helping to save James' (and Wade's) legs, as they weren't required to bail out the team offensively all that often. Here he is doing it in the Finals, taking on Tiago Splitter with ease. Most role players are incapable of this on a regular basis. 

But that's what Bosh does below when a Miami double stagger screen in the corner yields nothing. Without the ability to make the prescribed pass, Bosh improvises and hits Splitter with a jab, drive, spin and finish. What was a failed play ends up in a layup.

Defensively, his versatility as both a rim protector, post defender and pick-and-roll scrambler have afforded Miami the flexibility we've come to associate with their lineup selections. LeBron James playing the power forward position, multiple point guards on the floor at once and a dearth of real size on the roster are all a function of Bosh's ability to play both the 4 and 5 as required.

We can see all of that here against Brooklyn in an earlier round of the playoffs, when Bosh hedges on the pick-and-roll all the way out on the three-point line, recovers back to the rim to help on a drive, is forced to switch onto the smaller and quicker Shaun Livingston and then eventually blocks his shot. 

It might not be the best idea to feature Bosh as the No. 1 option, but his ability to adapt to all sorts of roles makes him invaluable to Miami. Due to the logistics of the NBA's salary cap, he's probably not worth the max. But with the way Miami has and currently wants to construct its roster, he's a big key for what they do. 

But as we saw this season, Bosh, James and Wade aren't enough. Miami needs more pieces, and therefore more money to acquire those pieces. It will be up to the trio to take less Miami to give the front office room to chase better players. Whether or not they do that again is up for debate, but there's no question that this iteration of the Miami Heat cannot survive without Bosh.