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Chris Bosh becomes key to Heat keeping Big Three in Miami

Could Chris Bosh's future be the hook in Pat Riley's master plan for the Heat?  (USATSI)
Could Chris Bosh's future be the hook in Pat Riley's master plan for the Heat? (USATSI)

More Offseason Analysis: Coaching changes, news | Free Agency | Draft

Miami Heat president Pat Riley's effort to bring back the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in free agency has reached a fascinating tipping point. With none of the free agents committed to deals yet, league sources tell CBSSports.com that Bosh's future has emerged as the tipping point in Riley's master plan.

Riley's attempts to lure free agents to join the Big Three have been stalled by uncertainty over where the financial terms of Bosh's and Wade's prospective new deals with Miami would land. With James seeking a max salary for next season -- and deservedly so -- how much room Riley can create for other free-agent additions hinges on Bosh and Wade.

Given that Wade, in physical decline at age 32, opted out of $42 million over the next two seasons, rival teams believe he must have been assured that he would recoup that money by agreeing to a longer deal to return to the Heat. But as CBSSports.com reported Friday night, there will be a max market for Bosh -- especially if James and the Knicks' Carmelo Anthony finalize plans to return to their existing teams.

Several teams chasing James and Anthony would have a max slot for Bosh if they struck out on their two top targets. At minimum, the Rockets, Mavs and Lakers fit that description. The Bulls, Suns and Cavs also possess -- or have been working on creating -- room for a max free agent starting north of $20 million. For that reason, Bosh is viewed around the league as the most likely member of the Big Three to break off and change teams.

A rival team executive told CBSSports.com Friday that the growing belief around the league is that Bosh would prefer a four-year max deal with another team to a discounted, longer-term deal with Miami. So many pieces in the Heat's puzzle are connected, and one of them falling out of place threatens to tear the whole thing apart.

As Riley pursues Luol Deng, Anthony Morrow and others in an attempt to deliver the roster upgrades that James is seeking, James' agent, Rich Paul, has spoken with the Rockets, Mavs, Suns, Cavs and Lakers. Teams have been told that if the Heat aren't successful in making roster additions soon, James would choose finalists and meet with them in person as early as next week.

Bosh, meanwhile, remains on a family vacation while his agent, Henry Thomas, who also represents Wade, has worked in recent days to identify potential landing spots if the Heat scenarios collapse.

It is a fascinating turn of events, to say the least. Four years later, Riley is learning that it will be more difficult to keep the Big Three together than it was to unite them in the first place.

Before joining CBSSports.com, Ken Berger covered the NBA for Newsday. The Long Island, N.Y., native has also worked for the Associated Press and can be seen on SportsNet New York. Catch Ken every Saturday, when he hosts Eye on Basketball from 6-8 p.m. ET on cbssportsradio.com
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