Beloved by many, vilified by some, Chris Bosh is no longer the third wheel.
Expected to take a cut in salary to help keep the Big Three together in Miami, Bosh sat idly by as LeBron James took his talents back to Cleveland, a team with better, younger talent and cap space to spare (it's also "home").
So he did the smartest thing possible and assumed the mantle as the Heat's leading superstar, in a place he has conveniently come to call home.
He's also on track to be the highest-paid player in the NBA next season.
Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski has the scoop:
Chris Bosh is finalizing an agreement to return to Miami on a five-year, $118M deal, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 11, 2014
That's a nice slice of pie for a 30-year-old forward who, at least at face value, has fallen off in recent years despite playing with other superstars.
This decision, of course, effectively spurns the Houston Rockets. General manager Daryl Morey had pulled out all the stops to lure Bosh to Texas and stretch the court to give Dwight Howard breathing room underneath the basket.
He sent Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers, per ESPN Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman, and center Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans. The potential for Bosh to come to Houston has even, albeit allegedly, caused a major rift between the front office and first-round pick Clint Capela, who was asked to hang out overseas for another year to make way for the superstar, according to Comcast Sportsnet's Chris Haynes.
So no, Bosh isn't the most popular figure in Texas. It's safe to have an inkling he'll get over it, though.
After all, Bosh is due to make more than this year's Finals MVP, a three-time Finals MVP and a four-time champion, combined, as Numbers Never Lie illustrates:
With a $20.64M first-year salary, next season Chris Bosh will earn more than Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili & Kawhi Leonard COMBINED (!!)— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) July 11, 2014
The numbers seem ridiculous, and critics have come out of the woodwork to tee off on Bosh like an overstuffed pinata. Something must be wrong with the way the NBA pays its players, right? After all, his numbers have steadily dropped in most aspects over the course of his four years in Miami:
Naysayers will also use one metric to point out that Bosh was the beneficiary of playing with James, as a note by ESPN Stats & Info suggests:
But there are multiple facets to every story, and the narrative surrounding Bosh is set for what may be a massive "comeback" story by next season's end now that he can run free from the restraints of playing second fiddle to James.
It's easy to forget that Bosh has refined his game on the defensive end in recent years and shot an impressive 33.9 percent from deep last season. While his ability to space the floor will continue to provide ample room for the likes of Shabazz Napier—impressionable rookies being another reason team president Pat Riley was willing to dish out a max offer—Bosh is at his best closer to the basket.
It's important to understand that his continued push away from the rim, while somewhat acting as a decoy with James on the court, directly coincides with his decreasing numbers:
Over half of Chris Bosh's FG att came within 8 feet of basket in final season w/Raptors. It was about 36% last season pic.twitter.com/3BEejmcp0y— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 8, 2014
With James out of the way and the current roster suggesting he'll assume the 5-spot with Josh McRoberts at the 4, Bosh will get back to his old ways beneath the rim, a change in approach that will quickly lead to better numbers, which will eventually parlay into a better reputation and appreciation from fans.
This is something Riley and the front office are confident about as the mini-rebuild kicks off in the wake of James bolting for another city and forcing a change of course.
In an official statement (via Pro Basketball Talk), Riley stated:
"[Owner] Micky [Arison], [head coach] Erik [Spoelstra] and I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to win and compete for championships for many years to come. We’ve proven that we can do it and we’ll do it again."
He's not wrong, either. Before the Big Three, the Heat still wound up with 47-35 (2009-10) and 43-39 (2008-09) records with Erik Spoelstra at the helm and a hodgepodge of names on the roster. In the Eastern Conference, that's enough to make the playoffs, where anything can happen thereafter.
Only 4 players in NBA reached 16 PPG, 50% FG pct and 50 3-pt FG last season: LeBron James Kevin Durant Goran Dragic CHRIS BOSH— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) July 12, 2014
Chris Bosh has been selected to 9 straight All-Star Games. Only Kobe (15), LeBron (10), Wade (10), have longer active streaks.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) July 11, 2014
Perhaps most important of all, Bosh has freed himself from the shackles of a reduced role and the weight of ludicrous expectations.
"I don't think anybody really enjoyed this season like in years past," Bosh told the Associated Press after last season (via ESPN.com). "There was no, like, genuine joy all the time. It seemed like work. It was a job the whole year. Winning was just a relief. Losing was a cloud over us sometimes, and then we'd break out of it—and then go right back. But we got here. We had a chance. They were just better."
The guy James would have surely swapped out of the Big Three at the time in exchange for Chris Paul, were it possible, now gets to step into the spotlight of his own franchise, in a locale that is both comfortable for his family and where any future success will be met with overwhelming praise from an appreciative fanbase.
An opportunity Bosh has relished since his Toronto days has finally come to fruition. Now it's hit job to run with it, free from the dark cloud of expectation.