Heat forward James Johnson, who becomes a free agent early Saturday morning, said Friday that he would like to remain with the Heat and is willing to wait out a decision by Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward – Miami’s top target - even if the Heat has to put Johnson’s situation on hold for several days.
“I'm a patient guy,” Johnson told me at DJ Irie’s annual golf tournament to benefit the Irie Foundation. “They can take as long as they want. My mindset is winning. I think Hayward can help us win and I'm all for it. They brought me here for a reason and I know they're going after Hayward for a reason and I think his statistics and his numbers that he [produces], he fits in the best here.
“The [Heat] haven't said too much, but all I know is that if he comes here, he'll be great for us.”
That approach is very good news for the Heat, which would stand at risk of having free agents Johnson or Dion Waiters snatched away by another team while awaiting a decision from Hayward.
Waiters hasn’t indicated if he’s willing to wait while the Heat pursues Hayward.
Hayward will meet with the Heat on Saturday, the Boston Celtics on Sunday and the incumbent Utah Jazz on Monday before making a decision.
Whether Miami lures Hayward or another high-end free agent will help determine what the Heat has available to offer Johnson and Waiters.
Free agents can begin speaking with teams at 12:01 a.m. Saturday but cannot sign until July 6.
If Hayward agrees to join the Heat on a max contract – which comes with a first year salary of $29.7 million - Miami’s cap space would shrink to $5.7 million.
But the Heat could carve out another $4 million in space, bringing its available space to $9.7 million in this Hayward scenario, by releasing Josh McRoberts and stretching his cap hits over three years, at $2 million per year.
That scenario would allow the Heat to offer Johnson or Waiters a four-year contract worth nearly $42 million, including five percent annual raises for players without Bird Rights. (Neither Johnson nor Waiters has Bird Rights.)
It’s unlikely the Heat could keep both Johnson and Waiters if Hayward signs with Miami, unless the Heat starts slashing payroll.
Johnson and Hayward share the same agent, Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein, which could help the process.
Johnson said he has no visits scheduled with any teams and hasn’t spoken to the Heat recently about his future, though Heat president Pat Riley has publicly expressed a desire to retain him.
His contact with the Heat has “been let me go in the gym, let me get my work in, let me focus on my craft. We let that business side take care of the business side. Mark Bartelstein is going to take care of his clients, which Hayward and me both belong to.”