Take away a solar system’s central star, and it’s impossible to keep the planets in place. Sooner or later, they’ll all trend toward some other orbit.
Luckily, another more familiar sun slid in to take the old one’s space.
Heat president Pat Riley didn’t simply save Miami’s basketball solar system; he kept the gravitational pull intact.
To be sure, the Heat have a long way to go to get back to the NBA mountaintop. Wade, Bosh and head coach Erik Spoelstra, great as they are, simply can’t do it alone.
That’s not to say there aren’t some nice pieces in place.
Signing Luol Deng was an enormous coup for Miami, even if the cost—two years at $20 million—is long on cash and short on commitment. Likewise, Josh McRoberts (four years, $24 million) and Danny Granger (two years, $4.2 million) both bring much-needed depth to a frontcourt hole left gaping in the wake of LeBron’s departure.
Throw in holdovers Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen, and the Heat somehow managed to make lemonade from a truck full of wet lawn clippings. With Spoelstra at the helm, brimming as he is with basketball brilliance, the recipe is sure to sweeten.
It won’t be cheap—the team is already well over the salary cap—but it could mean retaining that most precious of NBA luxuries: a contender’s continuity.
For a team with three titles since 2006, that’s a critical catch indeed.
Bosh underscored precisely this point during a recent interview with ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh:
I think right now we have the correct infrastructure to compete for a championship. We have to get much better at certain positions, and there's a bunch of things that have to continue to happen. But you know a team like the Spurs, they had a lot of guys that people underestimate, but as a team, they were outstanding.
Between he and Wade, Bosh is easily the more sensible asset to build around. Not only is he two years younger than Wade; he hasn’t absorbed near the beating and bruising—the product of a style at once graceful and reckless—of his 32-year-old teammate.
At the same time, carrying a team is not exactly relearning to ride a bike. It’s been four years since Bosh was the full-time cornerstone of the Toronto Raptors, a team that—despite its leader’s brilliance—only cracked the playoffs twice in seven seasons with Bosh in the lineup.
Bosh may not be quite the caliber of player he was in Toronto. But for every step or vertical inch he may have lost, he’s made up for it in the kind of currency only a select few have had the privilege to circulate: playing alongside the greatest player on the planet.
As for Wade, the years will likely become unkinder. Writing at Bleacher Report, Stephan Babb emphasizes just how important it is that Wade’s next few years don’t devolve into the NBA version of the European Grand Tour:
Wade preserves a winning culture. He maintains continuity. He ensures that this team will retain some semblance of championship confidence and accountability. Even if he isn't the most demonstrative leader, his calm and collected presence is one of those intangibles Miami couldn't have done without next season.
To be sure, however, Wade's presence alone is a necessary but insufficient condition for Miami's success.
He has to do more than show up.
If the Heat have any chance of scaling the Eastern Conference ranks, wielding a reasonably healthy Wade is of the utmost importance—even if it means duplicating or otherwise augmenting last season’s rest program, per ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst.
Beyond that, it’s about making sure that, after three rings and a certain first-ballot nod, Wade’s competitive fire still burns bright.
Which brings us back to Riley. For any lesser leader, losing LeBron James would almost certainly guarantee a fast and furious tailspin. Just ask the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Riley? He’s been around the block more times than the mailman. For him, making the playoffs isn’t merely expected; it’s a basketball birthright, albeit one borne more out of merit than mere name.
The Heat don't necessarily need to contend in order to thrive, of course. The next few years are more about maintaining stability than achieving the impossible. The hope being that, with a string of winning seasons, they’ll be right back where they were four years ago, ready and waiting for the next free-agent fish to land at their feet.
Indeed, it’s no coincidence that Wade and Deng’s deals are set to expire the summer when Kevin Durant hits the open market. Riley’s already proven he’s capable of corralling the best player in the world. Don’t discount it happening twice.
In the meantime, Miami’s prospects remain somewhat of a mystery. The Heat are easily good enough to make the playoffs. How far and deep their postseason path runs, however, will depend on how tightly the team’s newfound planets can circle their center.
Once upon a time, that sun was LeBron James. Good thing, then, that Miami still has its trusted North Star—nine rings beaming galactic light—to turn to.