Game 5 started exactly as the Heat wanted. LeBron James came out hooping. He ended the first quarter with 17 points, but only scored 3 in the second – 11 total in the second half – as the Heat simply lacked the answers for the tough questions asked of them by the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi Leonard paced the Spurs and was a deserved choice for finals MVP – even though he hardly contributed to the first two games – as the Spurs ran out 104-87 winners.
A woeful 11 points in the second and 18 in the third really cost the Heat. Dwyane Wade made a long jumper to get the game started and the Heat stretched out to a 22-6 lead before a three point play and a three point shot by Manu Ginobili brought the Spurs back to life. They nearly went 4 full minutes without scoring at the start of the game.
Let’s be very clear here – the Spurs won because of their system. They have very good – outstanding, even – players, but the players they have are a perfect fit for their system of basketball which is predicated on sharp cuts and sharp passing. The Heat have better players…or rather they have a better player…but lacked the support for him to really challenge the Spurs after their game 2 victory. It’s strange to think what might have been if not for the AC malfunction in game 1 that contributed to LeBron suffering from serious cramps and having to leave the game with 4 minutes left and his team trailing by 2. Could the Heat have gone back to Miami leading 2-0? Yes. Would the Spurs have come out in games 3 and 4 and stomped them, the way they did? Definitely possible.
Without taking anything away from the Spurs – who will have their own questions to answer over the summer – the real story moving forward is what will happen when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh deal with their Early Termination Options in their deals, which all have two years to run if the three decide to opt in.
As already observed in these pages, the event of a triple-opt-in (quite justified, the players owe the Heat nothing at all), the Heat will be over the salary cap before they have even dressed their roster with a fifth or a sixth player.
LeBron is the prize all teams covet, but will sign wherever he has the best chance to win a title. Miami has a running start in that they have been talking to the guy for four years. This year didn’t work out, but the team was once again in contention for a title. You simply cannot guarantee a title – no matter how in love with Michael Jordan you are to think that it’s in some way easy – but you can guarantee competitiveness. If Miami can put a package in front of LeBron that gives him a team that can contend, he will stay.
Of the other two members of the “big three”, Chris Bosh is the one that will have options. Bosh was 6-14 for 13 points last night, but 0-5 from three. He was key in games 1 and 2 and then the Heat inexplicably went away from him in game 3 and he never really recovered his form. Bosh has serious value and could command a max deal if he decides that he’s cool with his two rings and puts himself on the market. Houston in particular would covet a guy who would be the perfect compliment to Dwight Howard and James Harden, if not exactly the team-leading personality that the Rockets really need. He might be the victim of a great deal of criticism on the internet and the target of “big two” jibes, but there aren’t many teams in the NBA who would pass on Bosh, given the opportunity to sign him.
The problem for the Miami Heat is Dwyane Wade. Last night, despite looking very good in the Eastern Conference finals, Wade went 4-12 and frankly looked like an old man at times, particularly hobbling around the sideline during timeouts. Wade has no value to any team in the NBA like this. He was great earlier in the playoffs, but only managed that on the back of 28 games worth of rest during the regular season. At $41m over the next two season, he figures to earn roughly $500k per game, if this current “conservative” strategy is to persist. The Miami Heat need Dwyane Wade to opt out. The problem is how to convince him to do so. A 32 year old shooting guard who can’t shoot and has lost his hops, almost completely, who can only play in 2/3 of your games is not going to get offered a deal that would give him $41m in what are likely to be his last two seasons.
The Heat will depend on goodwill from Wade, but do have the opportunity to both save themselves money, by convincing him to take a pay cut, and show the greatest player in franchise history (not the best, that’s clearly Eddie Jones) significant respect. They can do so by offering him a long-term deal for a little bit more money, say 5 years at roughly $10m a year.
There is no way Dwyane Wade can play five more NBA seasons. No way. What this contract would do would be to show Wade that the Heat want to keep him on “South Beach” (in reality, the Heat play on Biscayne Boulevard, not South Beach) for his entire career. This was not something afforded to Paul Pierce. They will pay him the same amount of money and allow him to go out on his own terms – there is no chance that anyone is going to offer Wade a contract in two years time, given how hobbled he is right now, and his enforced retirement at 34 looks inevitable as things stand. It’s not really like Wade needs the money either, he’s earned $121m over his ten year career.
If Wade can be convinced to take a deal that pays him $10m a season – probably still more than he’s actually worth, but at least a 50% saving on what he will get if he opts in – then that would give the Heat the power to then go to LeBron James and ask him to opt-out and re-sign for less. Ditto Chris Bosh. If all three sign for anything around $10m a season, then that gives the Heat a solid foundation to approach someone like Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony and ask them to do similar. Four star players on roughly $10m each would give the team $20m to spend on the remainder of the roster without even breaking the cap.
The Heat let Mike Miller go to save themselves luxury tax. LeBron was reportedly unhappy about this and voiced his discontent throughout the season. If they are willing to spend a little more, they might convince their star players to take a little less. It worked for the Spurs…