Ira Winderman: Three moments that could have changed it all for Heat, Bosh, Riley

By Ira Winderman

“Rebound Stoudemire! Back out to Allen! His 3-pointer . . . Bang! Tie game with five seconds remaining!”

No, ESPN’s Mike Breen did not call it that way at the end of Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.

The moment before Ray Allen’s franchise-altering 3-pointer against the San Antonio Spurs was a rebound by Chris Bosh that forever will live on in Miami Heat lore, one Breen so eloquently exclaimed.

And, yet, it could have been completely different. It well could have been Amar’e Stoudemire charged by the Heat with corralling that classic carom.

So as Bosh prepared for Saturday’s induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, he was asked about three moments in time that not only could have dramatically altered his career arc, but also the Heat’s trajectory the past two decades.

“Yeah,” Bosh said Thursday, “could have been a lot different.”

Different ... if it was Bosh, and not Dwyane Wade, who went No. 5 to the Heat in the 2003 NBA draft.

Different ... if Bosh bent to the persistence of the Chicago Bulls in 2010 free agency.

Different ... if Bosh had followed through with a perceived pledge to sign with the Houston Rockets in 2014 free agency.

Instead, a career highlighted by a Saturday enshrinement speech in Springfield, Mass., a career ultimately defined by the black, white and red of the Heat.

2003 NBA draft

With Vince Carter in the midst of his Toronto Raptors career, the Raptors, covered at shooting guard, drafted Bosh at No. 4 in 2003, after LeBron James, Darko Milicic and Carmelo Anthony.

That had Dwyane Wade going No. 5 to the Heat.

In March 2019, when the Heat retired his No. 1 jersey, Bosh pointed to Pat Riley and quipped, “Unfortunately, he had the fifth pick and I went at four, so he had to settle for this kid named D-Wade.”

The past week, in an interview with the Sun Sentinel, Bosh acknowledged Heat interest during the 2003 draft process, and how it could have been different at the start for himself and the Heat.

“In my quest to get drafted, they were recruiting me,” Bosh said. “I still would have had some success, but I don’t know about their 2006 championship. Maybe, maybe not.”

The Heat won the 2006 NBA title led by Wade, but only after acquiring Shaquille O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I think I always would have fit the culture,” Bosh said. “Maybe in that alternate universe I get catapulted to stardom earlier, because it was different in Toronto. But who knows? Then maybe the [Heat] Big Three doesn’t get formed.”

Yes, Riley confirmed this past week, had Wade been off the board, Bosh was up next as the Heat’s No. 5 pick in 2003.

“Absolutely,” Riley said, “absolutely. And we were thinking about a big even before Dwyane, because of what happened with Zo [Alonzo Mourning’s kidney illness]. Yes, if Dwyane had gone to Toronto, we would have taken Chris.”

Riley said even with Bosh, there likely still would have been the 2004 trade for O’Neal, but perhaps with the team more protective in the deal of Caron Butler, considering Wade would not have been on the roster.

“It would have been Chris and it would have been Shaquille,” Riley said. “We may not having given up Caron. We would have to have kept a perimeter. Having Chris and having Shaquille together, we would have just added guards.”

2010 NBA free agency

Even as the Heat were plotting the eventual Big Three haul of Wade, Bosh and LeBron James, there was a moment during 2010 free agency when Bosh told an NBA executive, “I’m coming to play for the Bulls,” to play in a core that also featured Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and at least one more elite free agent.

Under such a scenario, Stoudemire may well have been the Heat’s fallback position in place of Bosh.

“They put a lot of pressure on me,” Bosh mused from Springfield, as he settled in for this weekend’s activities, with the Bulls emphasizing to him at the time that the Heat were not going to be able to sign himself, Wade and James.

The Bulls, Bosh said, insisted that if he signed on the spot, they would also land Wade or James.

“They showed me scenarios with Dwyane on that team,” Bosh said. “They showed me scenarios with LeBron on that team. At the time, Miami still had a lot of hoops to jump through.”

Those hoops were cleared. Trips to the NBA Finals followed for the Heat from 2011 to ‘14, with championships in 2012 and ‘13.

But, yes, Bosh said, he believes that himself, Rose, Noah, Luol Deng and another free-agent wing could have pushed past Wade, James and, for argument’s sake, Stoudemire.

To Riley, 2010 free agency was such a whirlwind that it still is almost too torturous to consider an alternate reality that summer with Bosh and the Bulls.

“Those three were perfect complements to each other, personality-wise and game-wise,” Riley said of Bosh, Wade and James. “If, in fact, C.B. would have gone somewhere else, we had been recruiting Amar’e and we had recruited Joe Johnson. It could have worked with Dwyane and with LeBron, that that team would have been successful. But I don’t know if it would have been as successful as it was with Chris, because Chris was the ultimate complement.

“I don’t want to use this term, but he was sort of the adult in the room at the time, to be able to separate all three egos.”

2014 NBA free agency

In the wake of James opting to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four Big Three runs to the Finals with the Heat, Bosh received a four-year, $88 million offer from the Rockets in 2014 free agency. Riley then was given mere hours to come up with even more, eventually extending a five-year, $118 million deal.

At the time, the Rockets thought they had a done deal, ready to contend in the Western Conference with a core of James Harden, Dwight Howard and Bosh.

“If I would have been on that team, I would have been pretty confident that we could have been successful,” Bosh said. “I was having conversations with James and with Dwight.”

Had those Rockets conversations turned into reality, Riley said the impact on the Heat would have been significant.

“If Chris had left, we would have maxed out Dwyane, still brought in Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and those players had sort of committed to us,” Riley said. “We would have started over, saved it for another year.”

Instead, Wade was offered something less, which factored into his 2018 departure to the Bulls, with Riley trying to build around Bosh with the 2015 acquisition of Goran Dragic.

In retrospect, of course, there was an even more significant component in the what-might-have-been equation. Seven months later after bypassing the Rockets’ overtures, Bosh was diagnosed with blood clots, a condition that recurred a year later.

That ultimately led to the end of Bosh’s career, with the Heat refusing to allow the basketball risks of the life-threatening condition, a contentious battle between the team and Bosh ensuing. With the Rockets, there might have been an alternate diagnosis, with Bosh, in fact, having secured independent medical opinion to continue playing — perhaps even to this day.

“It was close. It was very, very, very close,” Bosh, 37, said this past week of that potential jump to the Rockets. “I was so close I didn’t want to make that decision, but sometimes business is business. It was an interesting time, to say the least.”

Bosh paused, took a breath, and then acknowledged the gravity of that particular what-if moment.

“I’m glad,” he said, “it didn’t play out that way, that I was in a situation where they [the Rockets] would have said, ‘Oh well, you can play.’ Because you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to play.

“Then I probably wouldn’t be here.”

Riley said he believes the Rockets ultimately would have come to the same sobering medical decision as the Heat.

“I think Houston would have acted responsibly, the same way we did,” Riley said.

With that, Riley prepared for leave for Springfield, to be at Bosh’s side as a presenter for Saturday’s induction, to celebrate a career with intriguing twists that ultimately led to the Hall of Fame.

“Because none of that happened,” Riley said. “It all turned out to be four of the greatest years that I had in my career.”


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