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The Miami Heat's 2015-16 season ended on Sunday, prompting the organization to turn its attention to next year — and how to tackle the issue that has had the most significant impact on the last two Heat campaigns.
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Chris Bosh really, really wants to play NBA basketball again. But after watching concerns related to blood clots prematurely end both his 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, and after reportedly receiving feedback from multiple doctors suggesting that a recurrence of blood clots following a return to the court could be catastrophic for the 32-year-old 11-time All-Star, the Heat's decision-makers are now facing the possibility that such a return might never come, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:
Between now and this fall, Bosh and the Heat are going to have to reach a decision about what to do about his future. And there may end up being a complex and gut-wrenching disconnect between heart and mind.
There is a fear within the Heat organization that Bosh's condition will prevent him from ever being cleared to play by team doctors, several sources said. It's a result of exhaustive consultations with specialists. Something this big and delicate, the sides have gone deep attempting to understand all the options.
It's forced everyone to confront the possibility of Bosh ultimately being forced into a medical retirement. [...]
The Heat have had two seasons derailed because of Bosh's medical issues. If their doctors don't think he can be cleared to play, the team has to protect itself from having the turn of events affect not only Bosh's personal health but also the health of the team.
Windhorst's dispatch comes two weeks after reports that Bosh and the Heat had reached "a crossroads" in their perspectives on his health and future, with Bosh enlisting the NBA players' union in hopes of clearing the path for his return to a team that has appeared to be acting in his best interests by keeping him on the sideline, even in the midst of a playoff series during which Miami could certainly have used his estimable two-way talents.
One day after that story made national headlines, Bosh and the Heat released a joint statement announcing he wouldn't play in the 2016 playoffs and that all parties involved "have been working together throughout this process and will continue to do so to return Chris to playing basketball as soon as possible." But if a determination is made that Bosh can't return to playing basketball without the recurring danger of catastrophic clotting issues, the collective bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players could provide the Heat with a path to being able to move on from Bosh in a practical, roster- and salary-cap-management context.
Bosh signed a fully guaranteed five-year, $118 million contract to stay with the Heat in the summer of 2014. No matter what happens from here on out, he'll receive every dollar owed to him on that deal. The Heat could, however, excise the final three years and nearly $75.9 million of the pact from their balance sheet, according to the section of the 2011 CBA that governs how long-term injuries are managed in the computation of team salary (emphasis mine):
Any player who suffers a career-ending injury or illness, and whose contract is terminated by the Team in accordance with the NBA waiver procedure, will be excluded from his Team’s Team Salary as follows:
(1) Subject to Section 4(h)(5) below, beginning on the first anniversary of the date of the last NBA Regular Season or playoff game in which the player played, the Team may apply to the NBA to have the player’s Salary for each remaining Salary Cap Year covered by the Contract excluded from Team Salary (i) if the player played in ten (10) or more NBA Regular Season and playoff games in a Season, on the first anniversary of the date during such Season in which the player last played in a NBA Regular Season or playoff game, (ii) if the player played in less than ten (10) NBA Regular Season and playoff games in a Season, on the later of (A) sixty (60) days following the date during such Season in which the player last played in a NBA Regular Season or playoff game, and (B) the first anniversary of the date during a prior NBA Season in which the player last played in a NBA Regular Season or playoff game.
(2) The determination of whether a player has suffered a career-ending injury or illness shall be made by a physician selected jointly by the NBA and the Players Association. A player shall be deemed to have suffered a career-ending injury or illness if it is determined that the player has an injury or illness that (i) prevents him from playing skilled professional basketball at an NBA level for the duration of his career, or (ii) substantially impairs his ability to play skilled professional basketball at an NBA level and is of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.
As Windhorst notes, the one-year anniversary of Bosh's most recent appearance for the Heat would be Feb. 9, 2017. If he still hasn't played by then, the Heat could trigger the review by an independent doctor agreed upon by both the team and National Basketball Players Association; if said doctor finds that returning to the court would constitute the sort of "medically unacceptable risk" that the Heat have thus far reportedly believed it would, then the Heat would have the ability to pay Bosh out, but remove him from their roster and their books.
That scenario wouldn't afford Miami any additional flexibility this coming summer, which promises to be a busy and complicated one for owner Micky Arison, team president Pat Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg. The Heat must navigate the free agencies of franchise icon Dwyane Wade, who offered evidence during Miami's two-round postseason stay that he might still have quite a bit left in the tank; emergent shot-blocking monster Hassan Whiteside, who could have multiple maximum contract offers coming and whose current contract situation might make a return to Miami difficult to manage; veteran forward Luol Deng, a revelation when pressed into duty as a small-ball four by Bosh's absence; and Joe Johnson, whose arrival from the Brooklyn Nets after a midseason buyout helped Erik Spoelstra's club click into the second-half offensive revamp that propelled them to 48 wins and the second round.
Keeping all of those players this summer at the price tags they're likely to require figures to be awfully difficult. The prospect of freeing up the funds presently allotted to Bosh, though, could bolster Miami's opportunity to reload its roster come the summer of 2017.
That's not what anyone involved in this situation seems to want, of course. Riley and company wouldn't have committed as much money as they possibly could to Bosh for as long as they possibly could two summers back if they didn't want him to be the foundation on which the next competitive iteration of the Heat was built. Bosh, obviously, wants to keep earning his money and playing the game that he loves.
We don't always get what we want, though. If nothing comes to pass in the next nine months convinces the decision-makers involved that the condition that's conspired to keep Bosh off the court in each of the last two springs will cease to be a very, very scary problem, the Heat have to be ready to pursue a very, very sad Plan B ... and NBA fans might have to be ready to consider a future that doesn't include one of the game's most versatile, talented, charismatic, exuberant and frequently underappreciated stars.
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