Miami Heat

Heat, Celtics, Jazz now wait for Gordon Hayward to make his choice

Utah Jazz guard/forward Gordon Hayward looks up as he walks on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Sat., March 18, 2017, in Chicago.
Utah Jazz guard/forward Gordon Hayward looks up as he walks on the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls Sat., March 18, 2017, in Chicago. AP

All that’s left to do now is wait for Gordon Hayward to announce his decision.

And the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz are all eagerly waiting and hoping the 27-year-old All-Star small forward selects them.

Monday afternoon in San Diego, where the Haywards have a home, Hayward met with the only bosses and teammates he’s ever known – Jazz owner Gail Miller, general manager Dennis Lindsey, coach Quin Snyder and a group of players led by center Rudy Gobert, the league’s leading shot blocker last season, and recently resigned forward Joe Ingles, Hayward’s closest friend on the team.

The Jazz also brought in newly acquired point guard Ricky Rubio, who made the trip in from Spain, ESPN reported. The meeting reportedly lasted 3 1/2 hours. Sam Amick of USA Today reported late Monday evening Hayward told associates he will get a night’s rest before making his decision.

Monday’s meeting with the Jazz was the last of three in a three-city tour for Hayward, who began his trip Saturday in Miami with Pat Riley and the Heat and continued to Boston on Sunday where his former college coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics made their pitch.

Much like the Heat and Celtics, the Jazz felt good about convincing the top remaining free agent (Finals MVP Kevin Durant re-signed with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors) to tie his future to them.

“We feel good because of the city and the organization, the level of the team, Quin, the development staff and Rudy,” Lindsey told the Deseret News Sunday prior to the meeting. “We’re quite confident. We’ll see what that means. We’ll find out if that’s overconfident or appropriately placed. I think as much as anything we’re confident in where the team is positioned, the ability to move it forward.”

The 6-8, 226-pound Hayward, who averaged 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists and shot nearly 40 percent from three-point range in earning his first All-Star selection last season with the Jazz, has plenty of reasons to stay in Utah.

The Jazz can offer him a longer, richer contract (five years, $172.4 million) than Boston and Miami can (four years, $127.8 million), and a guarantee he’ll remain the central figure on offense. Utah has progressively improved year-to-year over the past four seasons, too, going from 25 wins to 38 to 40 to 51 last season, reaching the second round of the playoffs back in May before being swept by the Warriors.

Miami Heat president Pat Riley talks about the team's plans for Chris Bosh during his season-ending press conference on Wed., April 19, 2017.

The problem is the Western Conference has spent the last two weeks getting tougher and tougher. Three Eastern Conference All-Stars flipped conferences with Paul George going from Indiana to Oklahoma City; Paul Millsap leaving Atlanta to join Denver and Jimmy Butler was traded from Chicago to a fast-rising Minnesota squad.

The financial advantage the Jazz appear to have is also moot since Hayward, a seven-year veteran, would be better off opting out of his next contract after three seasons to move into the NBA's highest-tenure pay bracket once he completes his 10th pro season.

When it comes to state income taxes, the Heat has the advantage because there is no state income tax in Florida, but there is a tax in Massachussetts and Utah.

A big part of the pitch from both the Heat and Celtics was how Hayward could help lift them over the top in a weakened Eastern Conference. In Boston, Hayward would be joining a team that finished with the best regular season record in the East and lost in the Conference Finals to Cleveland. The Celtics have a pair of All-Stars on the roster in point guard Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford and number of high-end draft picks it could swing in a trade to acquire another proven player.

The Heat, which just missed the playoffs at 41-41, do not feature an All-Star on the team and have traded away picks, but have the league’s leading rebounder in Hassan Whiteside and point guard Goran Dragic, a former third team All-NBA selection in Phoenix. While Thomas will likely continue to handle the ball and have it in his hands in late game situations for Boston, Hayward wouldn’t have that issue in Miami. Dragic deferred to Dwyane Wade before and shared the ball nicely with Dion Waiters last season.

As for the best basketball fit, Hayward ran pick-and-roll in 29 percent of his plays last season in Utah according to ESPN Stats & Info. The Celtics ran those plays less than 15 percent of the time, the seventh-lowest rate in the league. Miami, meanwhile, ran pick-and-roll plays 19 percent of the time, eighth-most in the league and Whiteside would give Hayward an elite finisher at the rim on those plays – one certainly better than Gobert.

All of these factors will likely run through Hayward’s mind before he reaches a final decision – not to mention the fact his wife Robyn and his two daughters love warm weather and the beach.

WAITERS WAITING?

As Miami waits on Hayward's decision, Dion Waiters met with the Heat on Sunday in Los Angeles as well as other teams including the hometown Lakers, according to ESPN.

The Lakers, however, appear intent now on going after former Jazz point guard George Hill and could spend most of their remaining $17 million in cap space on the 31-year-old to serve as a tutor to rookie first round pick Lonzo Ball.

▪ Heat backup center Willie Reed, a free agent, told Hoops Hype on Monday his goal next season is to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in 2017-18.

Miami Heat president Pat Riley talks about free agent Dion Waiters.

“I have really high expectations for myself next year,” Reed told Hoops Hype. “With more minutes, I think I can be the Most Improved Player in the NBA. I want to be an elite shot-blocker and make a big impact. I think it’s just a matter of getting more minutes and experience.”

Reed won’t get more minutes with Whiteside playing in front of him. While Reed remains open to re-signing with the Heat, he probably will also be out of Miami’s price range. The 76ers, Pacers, Rockets and Hawks have all reportedly shown interest.

“I love Miami and I’d love to be back there, but I understand it’s a business,” Reed told Hoops Hype. “I also have a family. I signed for the minimum there last year; it was a two-year deal, and I felt I had a good enough season to opt out. Now, I have an opportunity to take care of my family after being in the D-League and overseas for multiple years. This is an opportunity for me to make sure my family is set for life. If Miami can provide that opportunity, I’d be more than happy to be back there.”

The Heat does have a $4.3 million exception available to use. But after spending its first-round pick on Kentucky center Bam Adebayo it’s more likely the Heat would use that exception to address another position.

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