Chances of the Heat snagging an elite free agent this summer appeared to end Tuesday when forward Gordon Hayward announced he’s signing with the Boston Celtics. Hayward's deal is for four years and $128 million, with a player option on the fourth year.
The Heat now is expected to expedite the process of trying to re-sign James Johnson and Dion Waiters and supplement the roster with at least one outside free agent.
Johnson’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said by phone Tuesday evening that he and the Heat “are working on something” with Johnson and he would speak with Heat president Pat Riley later in the evening.
Waiters reportedly also has drawn interest from the Knicks as well as from the Lakers.
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The Heat also will strongly consider retaining guard Wayne Ellington, whose $6.3 million contract becomes guaranteed if he’s not released by Friday.
The Heat has $34 million in cap space after waiving Chris Bosh on Tuesday, and guaranteeing Ellington’s contract would drop that space to just under $28 million.
The Heat also has a $4.3 million cap exception that cannot be combined with cap space.
Two external free agents believed to be of interest to the Heat: Sacramento small forward Rudy Gay and Toronto power forward Patrick Patterson. (UPDATE: Patterson late Tuesday night agreed to a three-year, $16.4 million deal with Oklahoma City, according to ESPN.)
Gay has a home in Miami and has considerable interest in playing for the Heat, according to two associates. He has spoken with several teams, including Oklahoma City.
Gay, 30, averaged 18.7 points in 30 games for the Kings last season before sustaining a season-ending torn Achilles in January. He has averaged 18.4 points per game in his career, shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from three-point range.
Most of the top free agents committed elsewhere while the Heat was waiting on Hayward. While the Heat had some interest in Blake Griffin – who re-committed to the Clippers before free agency started Friday night – Miami was not interested in making enormous offers to several free agents who came off the board the past three days, including Serge Ibaka, Danilo Gallinari and Kyle Lowry.
Among remaining free agent power rotation players, the best available are Patterson, Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia.
Among others still uncommitted: center Mike Muscala, Marreese Speights, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger (visited with the Heat in March but has been trying to get into shape), Shabazz Muhammad, Tiago Splitter, DeWayne Dedmon, Jeff Withey, Jonas Jerebko, Kris Humphries, JaVale McGee, Aron Baynes, Anthony Tolliver and David Lee.
Several of the centers on that list, including Muscala, would be Heat possibilities on low-money deals.
Top remaining free agent wing players include Gay, Tyreke Evans (history of knee injuries), Arron Afflalo, Mike Dunleavy, Nick Young, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, C.J. Miles, Tony Allen, Thabo Sefolosha, Anthony Morrow, Deron Williams, Aaron Brooks, Vince Carter, Jason Terry, Gerald Henderson, Brandon Rush, Brandon Jennings, Ramon Sessions and Troy Williams.
If Waiters and Johnson receive starting salaries at a combined $20 million or so, Miami would have $14 million or so available if it chooses to offer that to Gay.
But if Waiters and Johnson consume more than $25 million of the Heat’s space, the Heat could try to pitch Gay on giving Miami a bargain or could turn to Patterson, Miles or another cheaper free agent, with Ellington’s return also a possibility in that scenario.
The Heat could clear out another $4 million in cap space by releasing Josh McRoberts and stretching his cap hits over the next three seasons, at $2 million per year.
That would increase the Heat’s cap space to just over $38 million.
Already under contract to the Heat for next season: Hassan Whiteside ($23.8 million), Goran Dragic ($17 million), Tyler Johnson ($5.8 million), McRoberts ($6 million), Justise Winslow ($2.7 million), Josh Richardson ($1.4 million), Bam Adebayo ($2.5 million), Rodney McGruder ($1.3 million) and Okaro White ($1.3 million but not yet fully guaranteed).
Udonis Haslem is expected to re-sign with the Heat, likely for a deal at the $1.8 million veteran’s minimum.
The Heat also might circle back to free agents Willie Reed (who has drawn interest from Philadelphia, Indiana, Houston and Atlanta) and Luke Babbitt, whose Heat cap hit would be just $1.4 million regardless of his salary.
Hayward, in an essay on The Players Tribune, said his “meetings with all three teams during this process — Miami, Boston and Utah — were just unbelievable. They couldn’t have been more impressive. Each meeting left me convinced that the team I’d just met with was the right fit. And even after I slept on it last night, while I was leaning heavily in one direction … I still wasn’t 100-percent convinced about what I wanted to do.”
He cited Celtics coach Brad Stevens, his former coach at Butler, as one appealing lure of the Celtics.
“There were so many great things pulling me in that direction,” he said. “There was the winning culture of Boston, as a city -- from the Sox, to the Pats, to the Bruins. There was the special history of the Celtics, as a franchise -- from Russell, to Bird, to Pierce, and it goes on. There was the amazing potential of this current Celtics roster, as a team -- from ownership, to the front office, to a talented roster with Isaiah [Thomas], and Al [Horford], and everyone else. And of course, there was Coach Stevens: Not just for the relationship that we’ve built off the court -- but also for the one that we started building on the court, all of those years ago, in Indiana.”