Three's a Crowd in South Beach? The Big Three's Addition by Subtraction Dilemma

Three's a Crowd in South Beach? The Big Three's Addition by Subtraction Dilemma

It’s tough to keep a trio together.

Larry and Moe had to go through Shemp Howard, Curly Howard, and Joe Besser before finally ending up with Joe Derita. Jack and Janet had the change from Suzanne Sommers to Jenilee Harrison. So, with the wrong-colored confetti falling down on the Miami Heat Sunday night for the first time in three years, a question arose: would the trio of LeBron James, Dwyayne Wade, and Chris Bosh get green-lit for another season, or has the time come for a 6’9” version of Jenilee Harrison to enter stage right?

Whether this group stays intact or splits apart largely depends on a human trait that is seldom, if ever, associated with the modern athlete: unselfishness. Miami is old and needs to get younger and more dynamic quickly. With picks stacked at or near the back of the draft, their ability to replenish their ranks through this month’s player selection meeting is nearly impossible. In order for this team to improve they can only do so by adding explosive and dynamic players through the free agency process.  

So, what’s the problem? The NBA is a salary-capped league and Wade, Bosh, and James are on the books for over $61 million dollars next year. The projected NBA cap falls just over $63 million. So, clearly neurosurgeon-like science is not required to see that if Miami’s Big 3 all commit to stay in South Beach, they’re all going to have to opt out of their current deals and sign newer, more team-friendly contracts.

For LeBron and D-Wade, this problem is pretty elementary. LeBron has a net worth most recently valued at $185 million dollars. He recently made $30 million without so much as lifting a finger when Dr. Dre sold Beats to Apple. Meaning, at this point in his career, LeBron has made his money and he stands to make far more still. If LeBron values championships more than money, then he will need to prove this to enter the rarefied air of Kobe, Jordan, and Magic in the 5- and 6-ring club. So, if winning rings, in South Florida, is as important to LeBron as I think it is, then his financial security makes him the perfect candidate for taking a pay cut to improve the roster.

This math is simple for Dywayne Wade as well. Wade looks to make $20 million dollars next year. But, he also missed 29 games during the regular season, had a postseason so forgettable that he was best known for a flop, and he showed so little effort that someone was actually able to make an 11-minute video of Wade playing awful defense. There is no market for D-Wade outside of Miami, and he knows it. Whether Wade plays at the $20 million he’s on the books for, or whether he opts out and takes a pay cut, Wade is the least likely of Miami’s trio to leave next year.

Which brings us to Chris Bosh. For the last four years Chris Bosh has been the Shemp Howard of the Miami Heat Big Three: funny faces, awkward screen grabs, and the question of what his contribution to the overall operation really is; and there are other critical differences between Bosh and his co-stars. For example, as opposed to D-Wade, there’s a market for Chris Bosh. As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported months ago, Dallas is very interested in making a run at Bosh, who has Big-D roots and starred at Dallas Lincoln High School as a kid.

Unlike, LeBron and Wade, though, Chris Bosh doesn’t have multimillion-dollar endorsement deals to fall back on after taking a pay cut. In other words, the money that Chris Bosh makes right now from his NBA salary is virtually all the money he’s going to get, and it’s going to have to last him and his family a very long time. LeBron and Wade’s salaries are pot-sweeteners, Bosh’s salary is the pot.

No doubt most of the talk this offseason will center on James. Will he stay? Or, will we be treated to “The Decision” version 2.0, where this time James takes his talents to Hollywood or Broadway? As tantalizing as that would be for the sports networks, I think James is the least likely to go. He already left a team once and it almost destroyed his reputation–a reputation he cares deeply about. Why do you think the LeBron bad-boy image campaign, when he told us he wasn’t going to be a role model, was quickly replaced by self-deprecating McDonald’s ads where he took jabs at himself for not winning the championship in 2010?

LeBron tried the villain thing and it didn’t work for him. The last thing he wants to be seen as is some kind of rootless hired gun jumping from super team to super team on a quest for championship gold. LeBron will have options, but unlike the last time he won’t be looking to make a splash. He’ll be looking for ways to stay put.

If Lebron remains, and with Dwyayne Wade’s choice already made for him, if anyone leaves Miami this offseason, it will most likely be Bosh; and most likely headed back home where it all began. So, don’t be surprised if there’s a new third amigo in Miami next year.

Dylan Gwinn is the host of The Mighty Gwinn Show heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio every Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 EST. Follow him on Twitter @themightygwinn.

Photo credit: Gustavo Caballero