Editor's note: This article was revised on Friday night, after Chris Bosh reportedly agreed to a five-year contract with the Miami Heat.
One month ago, the Miami Heat were one of the best teams in basketball, hunting for a third straight championship in their fourth straight NBA Finals appearance. They weren't flawless, but they had the World's Best Player, a tried-and-true two-way system, All-Star talent at three positions and role players who knew what to do. Miami held the Eastern Conference by the throat, and nobody was close.
Then the San Antonio Spurs wiped the floor with Miami to win the championship, and the Heat's best three players all opted out of their respective deals. Questions began to mount about the team's future, but they were about pay cuts and contract lengths. People wondered how this proud organization could maintain its dynastic stranglehold, but any talk of it all crumbling to the ground didn't feel realistic.
On Friday, in Miami, it all crumbled. Then things got interesting.
LeBron James is headed home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he'll be supported by Kyrie Irving and possibly Kevin Love. Even my mom knows how costly this loss is, and the ripple effects, for a time early on Friday, were massive. Chris Bosh for a moment seemed to be headed to the Houston Rockets to form another Big Three alongside Dwight Howard and James Harden; he then decided to stay with the Heat after Pat Riley unwisely offered him a five-year, $118.7 million contract.
Dwyane Wade's future is much less certain, as he's forced to come to grips with his professional mortality as a rapidly declining, borderline-irrelevant shooting guard. He'll probably return, but it's difficult to imagine a scenario where Wade makes up the $40 million he opted out of a few weeks ago. Tough swallow.
The future isn't bleak, but it's also nowhere near title contention. In re-signing Bosh, Miami finds itself overpaying a 30-year-old who will have to take on more responsibilities now that LeBron is gone. This means more shot creation, more playmaking and possibly more post-ups. Bosh is an incredible player who's headed to the Hall of Fame, but the corner threes and wide-open long twos LeBron used to give him are now in Cleveland. Defenses will now focus on Bosh, which isn't ideal for an aging big man with diminishing athleticism. He isn't a top-flight franchise player, but Miami will pay him like one. It feels like a desperate move.
Assuming Wade and Udonis Haslem return on short contracts, Miami could still put together one of the Eastern Conference's eight best squads next season. The known commodities are Josh McRoberts, Danny Granger, Shabazz Napier and Norris Cole. The first two (or three?) were brought in under the assumption that LeBron would be back, but they can still be useful pieces.
From there, Miami has a bunch of cap space, and they're reportedly hot after Luol Deng to slide into James' space at small forward. Assuming Mario Chalmers signs elsewhere, a Cole-Wade-Deng/Wing X-Bosh-McRoberts starting five isn't horrendous. If it's Deng, Miami's offense could have serious problems spacing the floor, but the defense would be solid and active (perhaps even better than last year).
But Riley doesn't want Miami just to make the playoffs. He wants a title contender. And re-signing Bosh will have them running on the treadmill of mediocrity for the life of that contract. The Heat owe Cleveland a top-10 protected first-round pick in next year's draft. This is the type of asset Miami needs to rebuild, but Bosh, Wade and cap space will send it out the window.
It's unknown at this time whether Miami and Cleveland will execute a sign-and-trade deal, but the return would be no different than what the Heat gave up four years ago to acquire LeBron: draft picks and a trade exception. (Cleveland already owes the Boston Celtics a top-10 protected pick in 2016, so moving a draft pick will be difficult. Even then, with Cleveland likely competing for a title, it won't be very helpful.)
There was an alternate universe where the Heat could have lost two megastars for nothing on Friday, which would've been really bad, even apocalyptic. Does Riley retire or oversee a total rebuild? Erik Spoelstra would probably be back next season, and he's a fantastic coach, but how long would he stick around with no LeBron, no Bosh and Wade's career rapidly winding down?
The Heat would've turned into the Eastern Conference's Los Angeles Lakers: a team with few assets, tons of cap space and an aging two guard who's no longer able to bring his A game every night. Living in Miami is an attractive lure for prospective free agents down the line, especially with no state income tax in Florida. But unlike the Lakers, the Heat don't print their own money. Team owner Mickey Arison infamously amnestied Mike Miller last summer to avoid a $17 million luxury tax bill, even though the team could still have used his three-point shot.
Rebuilding isn't easy, but it appears Miami isn't interested in taking part. They could be rolling over their cap space (putting themselves in the hunt for Kevin Durant, Marc Gasol, Russell Westbrook, etc., in the summers ahead) and becoming a temporary trash can for teams looking to dump salary. (It's not hard to imagine the Celtics attaching one of their quintillion draft picks to Gerald Wallace, or the Memphis Grizzlies sticking an asset to Tayshaun Prince.)
Instead, Miami will be an average basketball team with a costly max contract on the books. That doesn't sound like a promising plan, because it isn't one. The Heat were obliterated by an asteroid and currently sit like a crater in the ground. Still, for four years of glory, it was totally worth it.