MIAMI — On the eve of the playoffs, the expectation from Miami Heat owner Micky Arison was more of the same.
“One hundred percent,” he had said during an ESPN Radio interview of the chances of keeping his core of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together this offseason, with all three holding the option to become free agents.
On the eve of the NBA Finals, cornered by the Sun Sentinel, Arison stood by his optimism.
“That’s what I felt at the time,” he said. “Still feel it now.”
Then came the type of playoff thrashing heretofore unseen during the Heat’s four-year Big Three run to four NBA Finals and two championships.
Now? Now seemingly all involved are taking a step back to digest what just happened with the San Antonio Spurs’ 4-1 Finals romp that ended the Heat’s two-year title reign.
“Obviously, we would need to get better from every facet, every position,” James said in the wake of two of the most disappointing weeks of his four-year Heat tenure. “It’s just how the league works.”
It then became clear not to overstate the “we” portion of his comment, with plenty of time before his early-termination deadline at the end of the month.
“I mean, I will deal with my summer when I get to that point,” he said. “Me and my team will sit down and deal with it.”
The “my team” comment, by contrast, should not be understated. That’s “my team” as in James’ own inner circle, no longer represented by the same agency that continues to represent Wade and Bosh. Even in the immediacy of the loss to the Spurs, it was made apparent that James will be the one bringing an agenda to Arison, Pat Riley and Heat management, not the other way around.
“I love Miami. My family loves it,” James continued. “But obviously right now, that’s not even what I’m thinking about. When I get to that point, I’ll deal with it.”
The question becomes whether James’ consulting committee includes Wade and Bosh, whether he will approach those two first, to gauge whether his teammates would be amenable to contract restricting that would keep all three together with the Heat going forward, while allowing for expenditures on support staff for more than was provided this season.
Bosh appears on board with a collective Heat future.
“We got plenty of time, hopefully,” he said. “You know we’re all young men and hopefully we’re all healthy. This year I can’t complain. I made it through healthy this year with no nicks and scratches, bumps, anything like that, no bruises on me. I’m a lucky man, so just move on from this and learn from it.”
Wade wasn’t as fortunate. He sat out one-third of the regular season in order to be at his best in the playoffs. Instead, he was something far less in the Finals, lacking explosion and athleticism.
Where he sees his place with the team, and on the team’s payroll, might not mesh with the view of others who matter.
“I’m never going to point at anything physically,” Wade said. “I felt fine. I just struggled a little bit offensively. You know, I wish I could have done more, but it’s the nature of the game, you know.”
The supporting cast assuredly will evolve, Shane Battier moving on to an analyst role with ESPN’s coverage of college basketball, Ray Allen offering his strongest hints of retirement, Chris Andersen indicating an opt out from his contract.
For those who return or remain, growth will be needed, the Spurs having cracked the code.
“I trust the character of our group that there will be a benefit from this,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Wade said there never was an expiration date set from the moment this rendition of the Heat came together in July 2010.
“We didn’t say, ‘OK, let’s try for four years,’ ” he said. “We said let’s just play together and let’s see what happens.”
All the while, James, Wade and Bosh contractually protected themselves to decide in coming weeks about the course of their futures.
After largely holding it together from last season’s championship, with Mike Miller excised and Michael Beasley and Greg Oden added, an overhaul — either subtle or substantial — could be in the offing.
“Yeah, I mean I think that’s true for any team right now going forward,” Allen said. “But yeah it could be.”