Chances of the Heat landing an elite free agent this summer appeared to end Tuesday, when forward Gordon Hayward – Miami’s top target – agreed to join the Boston Celtics, according to ESPN, USA Today and The Vertical.
Hayward’s agent told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi that Hayward hasn’t yet made a decision, but Wojnarowksi said Miami was eliminated from consideration on Monday. And a source close to Hayward said his understanding was that Miami was no longer a serious consideration.
Once Miami is informed that Hayward isn’t coming, Miami is expected to immediately begin the process of trying to re-sign James Johnson and Dion Waiters and supplement the roster with at least one outside free agent.
Both Johnson and Waiters have expressed an interest in re-signing, with Johnson saying he would wait out the Heat’s Hayward pursuit.
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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 will have $34 million in cap space as soon as Chris Bosh is released this week, 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.
Gay has a home in Miami and has long had great interest in the Heat, according to a source. He has spoken with several teams, including Oklahoma City and Golden State, but hasn’t committed anywhere and likely would be receptive to Heat interest.
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.
Patterson also looms as a possibility. The 6-9 power forward averaged 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 65 games for the Raptors last season, including eight starts, and shot 40.1 percent from the field.
He has converted between 94 and 105 three-pointers each of the past three seasons, shooting 37 percent on threes during that period.
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 – the Heat 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 or 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, Brandon Bass, 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, Omri Casspi, Anthony Morrow, Deron Williams, Troy Williams, Aaron Brooks, Vince Carter, Jason Terry, Gerald Henderson, Brandon Rush, Brandon Jennings, Ramon Sessions and Troy Williams.
Whether the Heat can afford Gay will depend partly on how much Miami gives to Waiters and Johnson.
If those two 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, who opted out of a $14 million deal with the Kings for next season with the expectation of making more.
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.
Babbitt in the Heat’s only free agent who has Bird rights, allowing Miami to surpass the salary cap to retain him.
The Heat emerged feeling good about its chances of landing Hayward after a Saturday meeting, and Miami received strong consideration.