MIAMI -- The questions asked of the Heat will be less urgent than if Games 6 or 7 had gone the other way. If the Spurs had generated one more free throw or defensive rebound at the end of Game 6, then the issues facing the Heat would have been laid out hysterically to a background of sirens and alarms.
"I know what the storyline would have been," said Heat president Pat Riley. "I've got to trade everyone, and Riley's too old."
Instead, the storyline for the Heat in their pursuit of a dynasty is whether they can win a third straight championship with the same lineup, which proved to be vulnerable to big frontlines and a second year of knee problems for Dwyane Wade. Speculation is naturally going to surround their out-of-position center Chris Bosh, 29, who is guaranteed $19.1 million next year (with two more years at $42.7 million thereafter) despite having gone scoreless on five shots in Game 7.
"We kept saying nobody is going to remember what your shooting percentage was," said Wade of Bosh and small forward Mike Miller, both of whom went 0-for-5. "They're going to remember if you won a championship or not. Chris did an unbelievable job of trying to guard Tim Duncan one‑on‑one all night because we wanted to stay home on the shooters like Danny Green and those guys."
When Bosh was the franchise star of the Raptors, he insisted that he never wanted to be a center. At 6-foot-11 and 235 pounds he was overwhelmed at times this season while trying to deal with bigger opponents such as Indiana center Roy Hibbert (7-2, 285) and Duncan (6-11, 255), who at age 37 went for 24 points and 12 rebounds Thursday. The question is going to be simple: Should Miami trade Bosh for somebody bigger?
It's a valid question because the challenges threaten to grow more intimidating next season. Indiana promises to be a stronger contender as Hibbert, Paul George and their other young stars gain confidence and former All-Star small forward Danny Granger returns to the rotation after losing this season to a knee injury. The big frontline of the Bulls will cause more problems with point guard Derrick Rose back on the court next season. The Spurs may be able to return to the Finals, based on the potential of second-year forward Kawhi Leonard to step in for Manu Ginobili (who may yet return next season) as the team's next-generation star.
Good luck to the Heat if they should hope to improve their rotation by moving Bosh: Deals involving a huge contract like his rarely net equal value in return. The Heat wouldn't be looking for young players to develop down the line; they need someone to help them cash in more championships immediately. There are very few stars capable of doing so, and they aren't likely to be traded for someone who recently went scoreless in the biggest game of the year.
As much as Bosh is criticized for what he isn't, he needs to be recognized for how he enables the Heat to play to their style. His perimeter-based game leaves the paint open to be attacked by LeBron James and Wade (when healthy) while forcing a big man to come out and defend him. Midseason pickup Chris Andersen also fit into their system because he was able to lurk along the baseline to finish layups and dunks created by his penetrating teammates. A traditional low-post big man would force a change in the evolving style of play that has generated two championships. Credit should also be given for Bosh's selflessness: How many stars would accept only five shots for the greater good of the team?
Maybe the Heat would be able to come up with a trade that would enable them to remain in contention while addressing their weaknesses up front. But they aren't going to make a deal that would diminish their chances of exploiting the championship leadership of James, especially as he looks ahead to free agency in 2014. The more realistic approach is for Miami to pick up someone of size to come off the bench, whether it's a free agent like Greg Oden, Marreese Speights (a 6-10 rebounder who shoots from the perimeter) and/or an older big man with the strength to help defend the likes of Hibbert. In the meantime Bosh will have another offseason to continue to adapt to the demands of his new position.
The continued improvement of Norris Cole as an on-ball defender gives the Heat hope of being able to deal with opposing point guards. Every team in the league has trouble containing guards who push the tempo and penetrate off the dribble; what the Heat have going for them, if all else fails, is the defense of James.
As bad as the Heat looked at times during their 5-6 postseason stretch against Indiana and San Antonio, the bottom line is that they were able to come up with ways to prevail. There have been times in the last two postseasons when apparent weaknesses against big men and quick guards threatened to do them in, but in every case the opponent has wound up being overwhelmed by the unique set of problems that the Heat are able to create. In these Finals, they limited Tony Parker (though he was limited by a strained hamstring) to 9-for-35 over the last two games. Most important, they were able to create mismatches when it mattered most, as opposed to being exploited by them.
The evolution of James' game gives them the greatest advantage of all. He developed his post game last season, and this year he rounded out his shooting range to the extent that he was able to beat the Spurs in Game 7 with his jump shot.
"This was the toughest championship right here, between the two," said James after winning a second straight Finals MVP. "To be able to win that [sixth] game and force a Game 7 is a true testament of our perseverance, and us being able to handle adversity throughout everything. It meant a lot for us to be able to do that and force a Game 7 and being able to close out at home."
They can't look beyond next year because James will be a free agent, and his next decision will largely be influenced by the outcome of 2013-14. As much as the attention will be on Bosh, the hopes of Miami will rest on Wade and his ability to stay healthy through next season. If he is his old self, then the problems the Heat create will always be greater than those imposed upon them. If Wade isn't healthy, then James will have to find other ways to triumph. In any case, there aren't a lot of options, and it isn't as if Miami is operating from a position of weakness: The ultimate burden to make moves this summer is going to be felt by their rivals. The two-time champs have a winning formula and they should be careful about messing with it.