Pat Riley Says Chris Bosh’s Career with the Heat is “Probably Over”

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Pat Riley, in a meeting with reporters, said that Chris Bosh’s career with the Miami Heat “is probably over” and that the team is “not working toward his return.”

Bosh, an 11-time All-Star, failed his preseason physical last week. The Heat had been prepared to clear him for play, contingent on him passing. During the testing, however, doctors reportedly found continued evidence of blood clotting.

“We headed down the road very excited to a point where we thought it would work,” Riley said. “And then the physical couldn’t clear him to the next step.”

Bosh was initially diagnosed with blood clots that traveled from his left leg to his lung in February 2015, and was subsequently diagnosed with blood clots in his left calf in February 2016.

Blood clotting is a normal process that occurs in the body to prevent bleeding and promote healing after an injury. The body forms blood clots when the platelets within the blood encounter a damaged blood vessel, and then breaks them down as the damaged tissue heals.

Clots can form unexpectedly, however, without notice or purpose, and have dangerous consequences. Certain clots, such as those that start in the leg or calf (called a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) and travel to the lungs (called a pulmonary embolism), can be fatal. And those who have endured previous clots in the past are particularly susceptible to a recurrence.

According to the NIH, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with DVT each year and roughly 30 percent of those patients develop a recurrence within 10 years, with the risk being greatest in the first two years. Recurrence is more likely in those who initially presented with a pulmonary embolism as well, as did Bosh, and is more likely to be another pulmonary embolism (as opposed to a DVT alone), leaving Bosh susceptible to a potentially more serious recurrence.

That Bosh has already endured multiple blood clotting episodes and that he plays a contact sport (professional basketball), both sharply exacerbate the risk of future recurrences. The risk for Bosh is therefore very real.

Blood clots are treated with anticoagulant drugs (blood thinners), which prevent further blood clots from forming as the body’s normal systems work to break up the existing clot(s).

For those who have endured a single clotting episode, blood thinners are typically continued for up to six months. Many professional athletes who have suffered blood clots have been able to successfully resume their careers without incident after completing their initial blood-thinner regimen.

However, people who suffer multiple blood clots are at sharper risk of a recurrence, and are typically therefore recommended to remain on blood thinners for the rest of their lives.

Blood thinners greatly reduce the likelihood of future blood clots, but they can have a potentially serious side effect: bleeding.

Since blood thinners slow the clotting of blood, unwanted and sometimes dangerous bleeding can occur with the use of these medications. Although infrequent, uncontrolled bleeding caused by blood thinners can be very serious. A blow to the head, for example, can cause bleeding on the brain and kill you!

Doctors and teams are therefore hesitant to allow players on blood thinners to return to contact sports, where a potential trauma could have disastrous consequences.

The issue for Bosh, then, becomes:

If he doesn’t take blood thinning medication, he is at risk of sustaining more, potential fatal, blood clots. Playing professional basketball only exacerbates that risk.

If he takes blood thinning medication to reduce the likelihood of a future clot, playing professional basketball puts him at increased risk of sustaining a potentially fatal bleeding event. 

After months of searching for a way to play again despite repeated instances of blood clots, Bosh reportedly presented the Heat with a scenario in which he could take a newer form of blood thinner which would leave his system within eight to ten hours, in time to play each game without the thinned out blood that creates the bleeding risk, a regimen used by National Hockey League player Tomas Fleischmann.

The Heat were initially opposed to the idea, which is not without its risks — while taking blood thinners that would leave his system in time for game action would theoretically reduce the elevated bleeding risk, such variability in their use is neither a typically recommended nor adequately tested protocol; and, even if the medication did leave his system in time for game action, it would also simultaneously eliminate the protections against clotting that the blood thinners would provide. But, at Bosh’s urging, the Heat had grown increasingly receptive to the possibility. That, however, was contingent on Bosh passing his physical examination.

The Heat now feel that Bosh’s career is over.

That, in turn, could have significant financial and salary cap consequences for Miami.

Bosh’s Contract

Bosh, 32, signed a five-year, $118.7 million contract in July 2014.

Bosh is due $75.9 million over the final three seasons of his deal — $23.7 million for 2016-17, $25.3 million in 2017-18, and $26.8 million in 2018-19.

Bosh’s contract calls for 20 percent of his salary for each season to be paid on September 1, and another 20 percent to be paid on October 1. The remainder is to be paid out in 24 equal semi-monthly installments, beginning on November 15 of each season and ending on the November 1 thereafter. As such, Bosh has already been paid $4.8 million of his $23.7 million salary for this season. He will be paid another $4.8 million in five days. The remaining $14.2 million will be paid in 24 equal semi-monthly installments of $594K each, beginning on November 15, 2016 and ending on November 1, 2017.

Bosh’s contract is fully guaranteed in the event of injury or illness. He would therefore receive full payout of his remaining salary even if it were determined that his situation is career-ending.

Bosh’s contract is guaranteed for $30 million in the event of death, the maximum allowable protection under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He has also taken out a life insurance policy, the premiums for which are paid by the Heat organization, that would pay out up to the lesser of: (i) his remaining salary less $30 million and (ii) $40 million. The combined coverage – equal to the lesser of the remaining salary to be paid out on his contract and $70 million — essentially means his contract would be paid out in full in the event of his death.

Potential Financial Relief

While Bosh would be owed all of the $75.9 million remaining on his contract even if it were determined he has suffered a career-ending injury, the Heat may be able to recoup a substantial portion of their payouts through insurance.

The NBA has secured league-wide Temporary Total Disability insurance coverage for the benefit of its member teams. Every team in the league is required to participate in the program, which covers approximately 150 players per season.

Under the terms of the program, each team is required to submit for underwriting consideration five players, each of whom must be among the team’s five highest-paid players based on either the current season or total remaining salary. Teams may submit for consideration more than five players if they so choose.

Among the five contracts required to be submitted per team, the insurance provider has the right to exclude from coverage 14 per season (such as when it considers a player with a very large remaining contract to be a medical risk) and well as in limited circumstances to offer coverage to players with exclusions for pre-existing conditions. However, once a player is covered, the carrier can’t exclude the player from coverage, or place any additional exclusions on his coverage, for the remainder of his current contract.

Given his consistent health at the time his current contract was executed in July 2014, there is little reason to assume Bosh would have been selected as one of the 14 excluded from coverage that summer, or that his coverage was subject to any pre-existing condition exclusions. Bosh is therefore presumably covered under the policy.

As with any insurance, there is a premium that must be paid by member teams in order to have the coverage in place. Those amounts are customized to each player, and generally cost about 4 percent of a player’s salary.

As with most insurance, the policy also has both deductibles and maximum payouts.

The standard deductible is 41 regular season games (i.e., half the season). After the 41-game waiting period, which can span multiple seasons, insurance pays out 80 percent of the guaranteed portion of the player’s remaining base salary, up to a $175,000 per game maximum.

Bosh missed the final 29 games of the 2015-16 regular season. If he misses more than 12 games to start the 2016-17 season, the Heat would start to collect insurance to offset his salary for every game he misses thereafter. Since Bosh’s per game salary in each of the next three seasons is higher than the maximum payout, the Heat would collect $175,000 for each subsequent regular season game missed.

Assuming Bosh doesn’t return to play, such payouts would work out as follows:

Season                     Insurance                               Heat                                      Total  
2016-17                   $12.3 million (51.6%)           $11.5 million (48.4%)          $23.7 million
2017-18                   $14.4 million (56.7%)           $10.9 million (43.3%)          $25.3 million
2018-19                   $14.4 million (53.5%)           $12.5 million (46.5%)          $26.8 million
Total                          $41.0 million (54.0%)           $34.9 million (46.0%)          $75.9 million

Bosh will be paid his salary in normal course by the Heat (as described in “Bosh’s Contract” above), who will then be eligible to apply for reimbursement through the league’s insurance provider.

Potential Salary Cap Relief

While Bosh would be paid all of his $75.9 million even if he doesn’t play again, there is a mechanism for the Heat to clear his substantial cap hits for each of the final three seasons of the contract.

The Heat can apply to remove Bosh’s salary from its cap sheet as early as Februrary 9, the one-year anniversary of his last game. The team could, at that point, clear his remaining salary from its cap sheet if a doctor who is jointly selected by the league and players association agrees that his condition is career-ending, or severe enough that playing would subject him to a medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness. The Heat would then receive the associated cap relief upon waiving him.

With the latest clotting issue, it seems likely that the Heat would receive such a ruling (though there are some reasons why such a determination might prove challenging).

Bosh has vowed not to allow the Heat to utilize his situation as a means to get cap relief, but both sides could benefit from such a determination. While the Heat would get to wipe his salary off the books, Bosh would get the one thing he will likely never get in Miami — the freedom to try to resume his career elsewhere.

Riley, on potential Bosh cap relief: “We never, ever thought about that. If we didn’t care about Chris we would have played him in the playoffs.”

Potential Impact on Team Salary

The Heat could generate a huge impact from the potential removal of Bosh’s salary.

Cap Savings: 2016-17

If the application were to be granted, after Bosh is waived the Heat would fall roughly $16 million below the salary cap for this season (barring any further transactions other than reducing the roster down to the 15-player regular season max).

The Heat could seek to leverage that cap room at the February 23 trade deadline. It could potentially utilize it to sign a free agent (unlikely, given the dearth of free agents at that time), facilitate a salary dump trade in exchange for future assets, or acquire a player with an expiring contract in trade in order to evaluate him (and acquire his Bird rights) before free agency.

The Heat, however, would not be obligated to utilize the resulting cap space. The organization would not incur any penalty, nor would it be obligated to make any shortfall payments, for dropping below the salary floor when excluding Bosh’s salary (as long as it remains above the salary floor when including it).

Cap Savings: 2017-18

The Heat, projected to have $16 million in 2017-18 cap room before the Bosh situation, would see that total grow to $40 million. That room could increase to $42 million if Dion Waiters declines his player option ($3 million), to $43 million if Willie Reed ($1 million) does the same, to $47 million if the Heat waive and “stretch” Josh McRoberts or $48 million if it trades him or he declines his player option ($6 million), and further still if the league’s current $102 million salary cap projection for the 2017-18 season proves conservative (as is likely).

At a $102 million cap projection, maximum salaries would be $24.0 million for players with up to six years of service, $28.8 million for players with seven to nine years of service, and $33.6 million for players with 10+ years of service.

The list of players who can become unrestricted free agents in 2017 includes: point guards Stephen Curry, Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry; shooting guard J.J. Redick; small forwards Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward; and power forwards Blake Griffin, Serge Ibaka, Paul Millsap and Greg Monroe, among others.

While the current Heat roster may be, as Riley called it, “rebuilding,” that could change in a hurry if things break right for Miami next summer.

For example, a potential trade of Goran Dragic ($17 million salary) – in whom at least a third of the NBA was interested this summer (according to reports, I believe by Ethan Skolnick of the Miami Herald) – would leave the team with as much as $56 million to $65 million of cap space (depending upon the assumptions for McRoberts, Waiters and Reed), which represents the only outside help the Heat would require in order to free up room to acquire two max-salary players.

What could you do with that kind of cap space?

While it’s difficult to imagine a single star free agent giving the Heat serious contention next summer, the story could change dramatically if two such players could be acquired together.

Stephen Curry + Kevin Durant? Mathematically possible, but a pipe dream.

Chris Paul + Blake Griffin? A long-shot to be sure but, again, possible.

Or how about sucking out every ounce of cap room to make a run at Goran Dragic (kept) + Gordon Hayward + Serge Ibaka?

The Heat also has access to its 2017 first-round draft pick which, based on its current season projections without Bosh, could wind being a very substantial lottery selection.

Add it all up and you get one inevitable conclusion: If Riley executes to perfection next summer, adding two maximum contract free agents and a potentially high first-round pick in a deep 2017 NBA draft to the current roster could yield a potential title contender.

Potential Cap Hit Return

If the Heat were to be granted cap relief from his contract, Bosh would not be permitted to play for the Heat ever again. But nothing prevents him from attempting to return elsewhere (even immediately thereafter), if a team is willing to sign him. That team would need to sign a player which another team that declared a fatality risk. They’d have to get comfortable with the medical, and moral, risk. We’re talking serious stuff here. With serious medical and legal consequences.

If Bosh were to join another team (even at the minimum salary) and play at least 25 regular- and/or post-season games in any one of the next three seasons, effectively “proving the doctor wrong,” the cap hits associated with his contract would be returned to the Heat’s cap for the then-current and any future seasons.

Having the Bosh cap hits return to the Heat’s team salary could create a rather large financial problem for owner Micky Arison. To understand why, imagine the following scenario: Let’s say the Heat utilizes all of its cap space next summer (including the cap space freed up by clearing Bosh’s salary from the books). Then let’s say Bosh plays in 25 games for another team at some point during next season. His $25.3 million salary for that season would get added back to the Heat’s team salary as soon as he does, which would potentially vault the Heat’s team salary from around the level of the salary cap to way over the luxury tax threshold. Arison could, in turn, get stuck with a very large tax bill.

To mitigate the consequences of such a possibility, the Heat would need to carefully consider whether it wants to “stretch” his remaining cap hits when it waives him in conjunction with its potential salary cap relief.

If the Heat elects to “stretch” his cap hits, in the unlikely event he were to reach the 25-game threshold this season (see “Potential Timing” below for why this surely won’t happen), his salary would be returned at a rate of $23.7 million for 2016-17 and $10.4 million for every one thereafter through 2021-22. If he reaches the 25-game threshold either next season or the season after, only the $10.4 million would be returned to the Heat’s cap from such season through 2021-22. With this approach, the $10.4 million cap hits are small enough that they would likely not trigger a tax bill for the Heat even if Bosh hits 25 games next season. This approach would therefore solve the Heat’s problem. But it comes at a cost – the smaller $10.4 million cap hits would remain on the books for the next five years. That’s a long time!

If the Heat elects not to “stretch” his cap hits, his salary would be returned at a rate of $23.7 million for 2016-17 in the unlikely event he were to reach the 25-game threshold this season, $25.3 million in 2017-18 if he reaches the 25-game threshold this or next season, and $26.8 million in 2018-19 if he reaches the 25-game threshold this, next or the following season. That could create rather large tax bills for the next two seasons, but Bosh’s cap hits would be completely gone after that!

The decision on whether to “stretch” would basically come down to whether the Heat, if Bosh were to “prove the doctor wrong,” would want to endure a smaller cap-clogging charge but for a longer period of time, or if it would want to endure a larger cap-clogging charge but for a shorter period of time.

It is also possible that, when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement to come is negotiated, it will contain a similar amnesty provision as has the current agreement, which would allow the Heat to re-wipe away Bosh’s cap hits (this time permanently). Or that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement would eliminate the possibility of a cap hit return (under the theory that if, in the best medical opinion of an independent physician, a player’s injury is career-ending, and if a team were to waive him in conjunction with that opinion, that team should not be penalized if the physician is ultimately proven wrong). Neither of these scenarios, however, is likely.

Riley, on Bosh potentially resuming his career elsewhere: “I don’t know. That’s up him. That’s up to the NBA. I can’t answer that question.”

He went on to say that, while he needed to honor his own team’s medical advice, he wouldn’t get in the way of Bosh finding a team that feels differently.

Potential Timing

Riley said Bosh will not be around the team in the near future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Heat will waive him anytime soon.

Miami has three options for when it could waive Bosh.

First, the Heat could waive Bosh now. That would free up one of the team’s 15 roster spots. But it would also provide Bosh with an entire season in which to find employment with another NBA team. If he did, it would essentially wipe away any chance for the Heat to get cap relief. No chance. Not happening.

Second, the Heat could waive Bosh after the career-ending injury determination is made, as early as Feb. 9, 2017 or shortly thereafter. Doing so could allow the Heat to leverage its $16 million of cap room at the Feb. 23, 2017 trade deadline. But it would also expose the Heat to the potential that Bosh could play 25 games elsewhere. The decision to take this approach, therefore, would likely come down to whether it has an immediate need for that cap space that would outweigh the potential risks. Possible, but highly unlikely.

Third, the Heat could waive Bosh after Mar. 1, 2017. By delaying until after March 1, the Heat would ensure that Bosh would be ineligible for post-season play. By that time, no team will have 25 games remaining on its regular season schedule either. While it remains almost impossible to believe that Bosh would return to play for any NBA team this season anyway, the Heat would therefore guarantee that Bosh can’t “prove the doctor wrong” and return his salary to the Heat’s cap until, at the very earliest, the start of the 2017-18 season. The Heat will have already capitalized on the $25.3 million in freed-up summer of 2017 cap space. The most it could do at that point is create a large luxury tax bill for the Heat, something of which it will surely be cognizant (see “Potential Cap Hit Return” above for ways the Heat could minimize its exposure in such a scenario). Depending upon whether the Heat has a need for the cap room or roster spot, the Heat could even wait until after the season to start the process in order to avoid the distraction entirely. The prospect of waiving Bosh sometime after Mar. 1, therefore, is far and away the most likely one.

No matter when the Heat would choose to waive him, if it were to waive him at any point this season, Bosh would be paid the remainder of his $23.7 million salary for the season in normal course (as described in “Bosh’s Contract” above). However, the cumulative $52.1 million salary for his final two seasons ($25.3 million for 2017-18, and $26.8 million for 2018-19) would be paid out in 120 equal semi-monthly installments of $434,393 each, beginning on November 15, 2017 and ending on November 1, 2022.

What It All Means

Pat Riley and the Miami Heat organization feel that Chris Bosh is dealing with a career-ending medical condition. Though he will not play for the Heat again, Bosh will nonetheless receive full payout on the $75.9 million remaining on his contract.

The Heat could, however, potentially receive both financial and cap relief associated with Bosh’s contract.

Starting on November 21st, the date of the team’s 13th regular season game (at the Philadelphia 76ers), the Heat would qualify to receive insurance payouts in the amount of $175,000 for each additional regular season game he misses. That’s up to 70 games in 2016-17, as well as all 82 games in 2017-18 and all 82 games in 2018-19. Add it all up and the total savings if Bosh’s career is truly over could amount to $41.0 million, or 54.0 percent of the team’s $75.9 million total obligation for the next three seasons.

Starting on February 9th, the one year anniversary of the Bosh’s last game played, the Heat can apply to have his salary removed from its cap. For it to be granted, an independent physician jointly selected by the NBA and players association determining that his situation is indeed career-ending and Heat would need to subsequently waive him. That, in turn, could free up an additional $25.3 million of cap space (and potentially up to $65 million in total if Dragic is traded) for the Heat in the summer of 2017.

Bosh could, however, potentially affect both the Heat’s financial and cap relief.

Despite Riley’s determination that his career with the Heat is “probably over,” Bosh has vowed to return. “That does not mean my NBA career is over. There are 29 other teams. It’s a whole league. One team does not make up opinion of everything.”

If cap relief were to be granted, Bosh would be unable to return to the Heat for the rest of his career. But he could attempt to return with another NBA team that may be willing to sign him despite the medical risk. Once he returns to play, the Heat’s insurance payouts would stop (and resume only if his attempted return proves unsuccessful). If he were to go on to play 25 regular season games in any one season, the Heat’s cap relief would be reversed and Bosh’s cap hits would be restored for the then-current and future seasons.

The Bosh situation is clearly still evolving. There is lots at stake. How it all plays out, then, is still very much yet to be determined.

Note:

The Heat could also apply for a $5.628 million disabled player exception in the event Chris Bosh cannot return to play. The exception would be granted by the league, based on an application from the team and a determination by an NBA-designated physician that the player is substantially more likely than not to be unable to play through the following June 15. 

If the exception is granted, Miami would be able to acquire one player via free agent signing, trade or waiver claim (though it still would not be able to exceed the 15-player maximum) as follows:

  • The Heat could sign a free agent to a one-year contract totaling up to $5.628 million
  • The Heat could trade for a player in the last season of his contract only (including any option years), who is making a salary of up to $5.728 million
  • The Heat can claim a player on waivers who is in the last season of his contract only (including any option years), who is making up to $5.628 million

Once granted, the exception would expire when a player is acquired, when Bosh is traded or returns to play for the Heat, or on March 10th, whichever comes first.

However, the Heat would not be eligible to apply for the salary exclusion described in this post if they have applied for a Disabled Player exception in the same season, whether the exception was granted or not. That effectively makes this option irrelevant. 

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