Chris Bosh’s career path remains very much intertwined with the storylines embedded within the Cleveland-Toronto matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Clearly, LeBron James remained in playoff mode on Monday, less than 24 hours after the Cavaliers finally learned who they will play when they take their postseason unbeaten streak to the floor against the Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Answers to questions about mindset, strategy and chemistry were short and dispassionate; James’ focus was too laser-like to penetrate. But when the questioning turned to one of his friends he considers to be like a like a brother, James’ demeanor instantly changed.
As James resumes pursuit of his sixth consecutive trip to the NBA Finals on Tuesday night against Toronto, the All-Star who left the Raptors to team up with him and Dwyane Wade in Miami fights for his career. After the Cavs’ practice on Monday, I asked James for his perspective on what Chris Bosh is going through.
“As a brother and as a friend of his, I hate to see that he’s going through what he’s going through,” James said. “I’ve talked to him numerous times. I said there’s no way that I can even understand what he’s going through, because I can’t. It’s just a tough situation for him going through that once again, for another year.”
For the second straight season, Bosh has been sidelined since the All-Star break with what is viewed as a career-threatening medical condition. Last season, he developed blood clots that traveled to his lungs. This season, Bosh returned to play 53 games before being sidelined again with a condition that the Heat did not disclose.
Bosh, 31, issued his own statement in March to say he did not have deep vein thrombosis, but he and the Heat issued a joint statement earlier this month ruling him out for the rest of the playoffs. Miami’s postseason run ended Sunday with a loss to the Raptors in Game 7 of the conference semifinals.
As discussed here, it’s a complicated situation with plenty of competing interests. The Heat have to wait until the one-year anniversary of Bosh’s last game — which would be Feb. 9, 2017 — to apply for a medical exception that would wipe Bosh’s $23.7 million salary from the books and allow the team to seek a viable replacement via free agency or trades.
Bosh has remained steadfast that he should be cleared to play. That goal, while potentially beneficial to all sides if he can return to the floor without further complications, could conflict with Miami’s business interests. If Bosh were to be cleared to return next season, the clock on his medical exception would re-start once he played. If he were subsequently forced to retire, Miami would have to wait another calendar year for cap relief.
It’s a harsh, but true reality.
“That’s what makes it tough,” a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports. “It’s personal, but at the same time, the team wants to do what’s best for itself. … That’s a lot of money.”
Sure enough, ESPN reported Monday that the Heat believe Bosh’s condition may result in him never being cleared to play by team doctors. The story cited several sources privy to “exhaustive consultations with specialists.” If Bosh and the Heat can’t find common ground, the National Basketball Players Association has stated that it intends to get involved and advocate for Bosh.
In their joint statement, the Heat said the team’s goal was to “return Chris to playing basketball as soon as possible.” But what happens if that isn’t in the team’s best interests?
That’s where things could become even more complicated. When it comes to player health issues, the union’s role typically is to protect the player from an overzealous team; not the other way around.
LeBron James has his buddy Chris Bosh on his mind.
“Not having day-to-day knowledge of the whole situation, I can’t comment on what the [players’] association should do,” said James, a first vice president on the NBPA’s executive committee.
“We’re here for the players,” said James Jones, who also was Bosh’s teammate in Miami and is secretary-treasurer of the union. “We’re here to support them and help them in any way, shape or form possible to allow them to play this game that they love. In Chris’ instance, he needs not just our support; he needs the entire basketball world’s support.
“If Chris wants to play and he feels like he’s ready, as a union, we’re going to support him and make sure we explore every option to give him every opportunity to do that,” Jones said. “It’s a tough situation, both ways. But at the end of the day, it’s his opportunity, his life, his career. I think he ultimately should and will have the final say.”
Ultimately, the determination about whether Bosh’s condition is career-ending wouldn’t be made by either side; final say would go to a physician jointly selected by the league and the union.
In the meantime, Bosh’s career path remains very much intertwined with the storylines embedded within the Cleveland-Toronto matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not the least of those is, had Bosh been healthy, would James and the Cavs be preparing to play the Heat instead of the Raptors?
It was Bosh’s decision to leave Toronto and team up with James and Wade in Miami that set into motion an arduous rebuilding process north of the border that only now — six years later — has come to fruition. After missing the playoffs with a 40-42 record in Bosh’s final season, the Raptors won 22, 23 and 34 games before finally returning to the postseason in 2013-14 under Dwane Casey. With new centerpieces Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and a supporting cast expertly constructed by team president Masai Ujiri, the Raptors finally were able to shake the post-Bosh curse of two straight first-round exits this postseason and booked their first trip to the conference finals by sending the Heat home in Game 7 on Sunday.
It was there in Toronto where it was discovered during All-Star weekend that something was wrong with Bosh again. He missed the Friday night competitions and the All-Star Game itself with what was described at the time as a strained calf. Bosh hasn’t played since, and it’s conceivable that he never will again.
“His health and his family are the most important things,” James said. “Basketball is a huge part of our lives. Obviously, he wants to be on the floor. But as a friend, I want him to be as healthy as possible and hopefully we can see him back out there next season.”
It’s another reminder that basketball is an important thing; just not the most important thing.