The more things change...
It's been a summer of tumult and consistency for the Miami Heat, embracing the duality of free agency in a way only few teams can. The unexpected departure of LeBron James could have sent the franchise reeling, condemned to the lower rungs of the Eastern Conference.
Instead, Miami simply plugged in the best pieces available, re-signing Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen while luring quality veterans like Luol Deng, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger to still remain competitive, both next season and beyond.
No move the Heat made was bigger, however, than getting Chris Bosh to sign a max-level contract in one of the most important moments in franchise history.
Bosh must become Miami's leader now; $118 million requires that kind of commitment. But Bosh is eager for the challenge, as he explained to ESPN in July following his decision to stay with the Heat:
"You wonder if you can still do it and step up to the challenge. I haven't had to be that guy. I played with the best player in the world. I didn't have to be the alpha. But now, I get to see if I have it in me, and not many people are going to believe I have what's necessary. But that's what makes it exciting... I'm not the same player that I was when I was 25, the last time I got to [be the No. 1 option]. I'm more mature, my game is more mature and I can do a bunch of things on and off the court to fully maximize this team's potential."
An excellent attitude, no doubt. One expects no less from Bosh, as versatile off the court as he is on it, defying the old stereotypes about athletes by exploring a vast array of interests that includes exotic travel, computer coding and, most recently, high-end fashion.
Still, words like these would be meaningless if Miami's "new" leader wasn't also putting in the work, a step he's clearly taken as per a recent report by the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
It seems that Bosh has been working out regularly at UCLA this summer, under the guidance of South Florida trainer Ed Downs and alongside former NBA veteran Miles Simon. Jackson's report explains how Bosh has "has been working on operating with the ball in his hands more often and also polishing post moves that were often sacrificed to accommodate the Heat's system."
Simon added the following details:
"On the offensive end, he's planning on more touches and being more of a focal point of the offense. The feeling I get from him is he can go back to his days as a Toronto Raptor putting up 20 and 10. He's looking forward to meeting that challenge. He seems very focused. He has really expanded his game with the threes [the past two years] and he will be around the basket more this season. This summer, he has worked a lot on back-to-the-basket moves and a lot on footwork. You will see his game evolve. You will see him command double teams. He will come to camp in really good shape."
If the reports are correct (and to be fair, there's no way of knowing until the season begins in earnest in a few weeks), then this is the very best we can expect of Bosh. He's repeated several times that he'll never be the same player he was in Toronto. As he told ESPN's Tom Haberstroh last September when referring to that version of himself ("CB4," his Raptors nickname) in the third person, "Everybody's like , ‘We need CB4.' And I'm like, that's dead. He's dead. He's not coming back."
So is it too much to hope that he'll be even better?
"Bosh publicly stated several times that he wanted that leadership role and responsibility (throughout his Raptors career). Even though the team didn't make the playoffs that season (in '09-'10), he put up very good numbers (24 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists per game, shooting .518 from the field including over 36% from 3-point range). In the end, I think the roster surrounding him wasn't good enough, and even though people in Toronto are bitter about his departure, as all cities are when stars leave, we forget he had great seasons here."
While Wong's point about Bosh's leadership is certainly backed by those statistics, the reality is that this version - CB4 - is vastly different than the player Miami fans have come to know. What stands out most is that Bosh only shot a total of 22 3-point attempts that year in comparison to a whopping 218 last season.
Again, Wong had this to say about the different role Bosh might play:
"The debate of course is whether he can be the number one option on a championship contender. Bosh can be a great offensive player, and with the increased usage he's expected to see next season, his numbers are obviously going to jump. But I'd be more focused on his efficiency and whether he mixes things up more in terms of playing in the low post and not becoming just a perimeter player."
This certainly matches what Simon described about Bosh's recent workouts. Ultimately, Wong has faith that "Bosh will have a huge season next year," and remind people why "he was considered such a top-level player before he was slotted in behind LeBron and Wade in Miami."
And so, as the saying goes, the more things stay the same.
Bosh has prepared himself for the upcoming season by incorporating what made him a success in Toronto and mixing those new-and-improved elements of his offensive repertoire with the Heat. Miami's roster is far better than any "CB4" was a part of in Toronto. More importantly, through his words and his deeds, Bosh is positioned as the team's unquestioned leader, poised to help the Heat continue their recent success.