New contracts always present certain levels of danger. Teams pay players for a combination of what they've done and what they have yet to do, and they are guaranteed nothing.
For Miami, Bosh is different.
The Heat aren't paying him five years and $118.7 million because of what he's done over the last four years. Nor are they betting on the player he can become. They're paying the player Bosh used to be: a No. 1 option capable of headlining an offense amid increased defensive attention.
And that isn't the player Miami has housed since 2010, because it didn't need to be that way. Bosh and the Heat had James' supernatural talents. They had a healthier Dwyane Wade.
They built a team on which Bosh was third fiddle, complementing his superstar brethren as a defensive afterthought.
One dynasty-disabling decision later, Bosh finds himself at the center of everything in Miami, the owner of an enormous contract, the No. 1 option for a team that has never been his, the recently promoted cornerstone whose true value remains a mystery that the 2014-15 season will solve.
Moving on from LeBron
Last season's performance is in the past. The Heat need more from Bosh. His 16.2 points per game on 51.6 percent shooting may have been enough then, but they aren't now.
Efficiency-wise, Bosh is fine. Any team would welcome their star player flirting with 50 percent shooting.
But the Heat need Bosh to maintain his efficiency while taking more shots. A lot more shots. His 12.1 field-goal attempts in 2013-14 were a career low and, at this point, unacceptable. The Heat need him to take more shots—while hitting said shots—without James by his side.
Bosh became more reliant on James for scoring opportunities as time wore on, and he (d)evolved into a position-less player with limitless range and a semi-exclusive knack for making the most of catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Almost 34 percent of his shot attempts came within spot-up situations last year, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). More than 80 percent of his made baskets came off assists as well, per NBA.com.
Those are red flags by themselves. First options cannot be dependent on others for shots. And they most definitely cannot rely on one specific person for those shots, which is just what Bosh did.
James assisted on nearly 29 percent of Bosh's buckets last season. The number is huge and weird and confusing and unbelievable when considering less than half of Bosh's field goals came off assists during his final season (2009-10) with the Toronto Raptors.
But the number is the number. Bosh's offense became synonymous with James' dribble penetration, keen sense of peripheral awareness and overall playmaking dominance. So much so that Bosh only averaged 4.9 minutes per game away from James last season.
All of which changes next year. There is no more James. The Heat no longer have a premier playmaker who will draw the attention of opposing defenses, leaving Bosh unattended.
There is Wade. There is Mario Chalmers. There is Shabazz Napier. And because there is only them, there also needs to be a more self-sustaining Bosh.
Is that possible?
Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com (subscription required) tackled this very question back in July, and he found a (possible) answer:
Starring without James isn't exactly uncharted territory for Bosh. The good thing is that we can look up this stuff across four years of evidence. From a scoring perspective, Bosh has responded well in James' absence. In the nine games without James since 2010-11, Bosh averaged 23.2 points per game, according to ESPN Stats & Info research. Hello, Toronto Bosh.
But that's admittedly not a huge sample size. We can go deeper than that by peering into lineup data in the NBA's StatsCube database. What do we find? Looking purely at lineups where Bosh played with Dwyane Wade but no James on the floor, Bosh averaged 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes as a member of the big two. That's actually worse than his normal averages of 18.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Maintaining that type of production, that kind of improvement, is the real challenge. Sporadic James-less performances sprinkled throughout the season don't prove much. Specific lineups that didn't include James don't mean anything, either.
These are now full-time circumstances. James is gone, he's not coming back and Bosh must adjust accordingly.
Three-point range cannot be his bread and butter anymore. His offensive arsenal needs to re-expand. It must include more post-ups, more isolations, more pick-and-rolls.
More of everything No. 1 options are supposed to be: overly reliant on nothing and no one.
Remembering the Raptors
Confidence shortages aren't something the Heat need to worry about with Bosh.
Bosh said, via 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.
Perhaps Bosh knows something we don't about teams he headlines.
The Raptors were never "outstanding" with Bosh as their primary focal point. They never finished in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency and only checked in at the top half of each twice in seven years.
Likewise, they only saw the playoffs twice, never making it out of the first round. Can things be different in Miami?
Riley's slicked-back hair says yes.
Miami's front office has given Bosh the supporting cast he never had in Toronto, where his sidekicks were guys like Anthony Parker, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon...during good years.
Luol Deng is a two-time All-Star and defensive stalwart, and Wade, when healthy, is still a superstar. But on the court, the Heat are now Bosh's team, and he has yet to anchor an elite basketball squad.
Averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game—as he did three times in Toronto—won't mean anything if the Heat's season doesn't mean anything. That, more so than the statistics, is Miami's primary concern.
Was Bosh bogged down by unflattering supporting casts while in Toronto? Or is he best served as a starry-eyed complement to another superstar?
The Heat are going to find out.
Shedding the Stigma
Perception of Bosh has changed.
Slowly, surely, over the last four years—despite recurrent All-Star appearances and respectable numbers—he's been devalued and sometimes deemed irrelevant, all because of the sacrifices he's made, as CBS Sports' Zach Harper wrote in June:
The outside noise is something he's had to figure out how to deal with on a nightly basis. His manhood was constantly diminished. His contributions were dismissed. He wasn't a star in this league anymore, not by choice but he was retroactively removed from the conversation. It was as if he never existed in that realm of basketball discussion, despite being highly coveted as a free agent in 2010. That was something that he didn't know how to deal with immediately.
Stardom has never matted to Bosh the way it does to others. Even though he struggled to adjust in Miami, he put winning ahead of individual standing the moment he joined forces with Wade and James.
And because he willingly took a back seat and adapted his game to meet Miami's needs, his status has been dismissed and contorted into something less—to the point where paying and building around an eight-time All-Star (nine selections) and two-time NBA champion in the thick of his prime is under a certain amount of fire.
That's the stigma Bosh will change or confirm in 2014-15. The Heat classified him as indispensable this summer, backing up words coach Erik Spoelstra, among others, reiterated time and time again.
Beyond that, Bosh is still fighting demons from his Toronto days—the ones that have contributed to his perceptual demise.
If the Heat are good, and Bosh plays like a superstar, everything changes. Bosh's decision to leave Toronto for Miami four years ago and his role on those ensuing Heat teams will be remembered differently and respected in a way they never would have been.
Next year is the year for Bosh. The biggest year of his career. Whatever happens will shape his legacy, individual status and the next half-decade of Heat basketball.
"I'll be damned if I was going to let him walk out the door," Riley said of his aggressive pursuit of Bosh following James' departure, per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick.
Bosh didn't walk. The Heat kept him. They fought for him, valuing him in ways no other team could, and in ways few would.
The rest is up to him.
Either the Heat properly priced him, buying five years of competitive security, or they're damned after committing the bulk of their future to a version of Bosh that doesn't exist.
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