Unlike last summer when they were the last of six teams to meet with former league MVP Kevin Durant, the Heat will be the first of three teams to meet with All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward when free agency begins at the stroke of midnight Saturday.
Though the time and location of Saturday’s meeting are still unknown, Hayward, who averaged 21.9 points, shot nearly 40 percent from three-point range and earned his first All-Star selection with the Utah Jazz last season, will hear Pat Riley’s sales pitch before the Celtics — Boston is trying to pair him with Paul George through a trade — and Jazz meet with him in the following days.
That’s important for the Heat because Riley, 72, will have to try to gauge how much patience to show as Dion Waiters and James Johnson — two big pieces in the Heat’s 30-11 second-half finish last season — wait in the wings.
Though Miami, which will have roughly $35 million in cap space once Chris Bosh is waived, could also pursue Clippers All-Star power forward Blake Griffin, Hayward is the priority. Thus far, Griffin has reportedly only scheduled a meeting with the Phoenix Suns. The Clippers, who traded Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, are also said to be interested in keeping Griffin in Los Angeles.
For the Heat and Riley, the faster information comes in the better.
“We hope we’ll have some information on that first night,” Riley said last Friday morning, shortly after drafting Bam Adebayo with the Heat’s first-round pick.
“We have a plan. We have a Plan A. And we have a Plan B. There’s no D, E, F or G. We feel good about the plan. You never know what’s going to happen in free agency. We have great respect for the two guys, three guys, four guys that we have that are free agents. But we’ll see what happens on July 1. It’s always a pretty exciting time.”
Although it’s unclear when Hayward will meet with the Celtics, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Hayward, 27, will meet with the Jazz on Monday and wants to “make a decision in short order.”
That’s good for the Heat. Though Hayward shares the same agent as Johnson, 30, there’s no stopping other teams with cap space from reaching out to Johnson, who is in line for the first big pay day of his career, or Waiters, 25.
That’s why Riley is hoping to have answers — or a strong feeling about which path to take — relatively quickly.
If the Heat was to get a commitment from Hayward and sign him to a four-year max contract starting at $29.7 million for this coming season, Miami could create more cap space to try to retain Johnson or Waiters by stretching Josh McRoberts’ contract (that would create $4 million) or trading away other players.
One thing the Heat can’t do is try to restructure Wayne Ellington’s $6.3 million team option for next season. Miami would have to waive him and wait 48 hours and hope other teams don’t sign him for the contract he’s already agreed to.
Also of note: The only incumbent free agent that Miami can exceed the cap to re-sign is forward Luke Babbitt, who is an option at the minimum or slightly above, with his cap hit already determined.
In the bigger picture, while the Heat is in position to improve by landing an All-Star in Hayward or potentially another top free agent, building a “super team” like others are trying to do or have done would take a lot of ingenuity on Riley’s part.
The Heat has limited assets (two first-round picks are still owed to the Phoenix Suns as part of the Goran Dragic trade) it can use in a trade and only enough cap space to sign one player to a max contract this summer, unless Riley gets creative.
There are other cap concerns like Tyler Johnson’s contract, which shoots up from just under $6 million after the 2017-18 season to $19 million per season over the following two years.
Still, Riley isn’t just going to throw in the towel — even if he says “it doesn’t look like there’s many teams that are very close to [the Warriors].”
He sees ways in which Golden State can slip (injuries, future luxury tax issues) and be caught from behind.
“Continuity in this game, today, is going to be very difficult because it’s difficult to keep a team together for a long time,” Riley said. “You’re not a dynasty in three years. You’re a hypothetical dynasty.”
Even if Miami strikes out in getting a big-name free agent or pulling off a big trade, Riley said he would still consider the summer a success if the Heat just retained Waiters, Johnson and Ellington (whose team option Miami can pick up by July 7).
We’ll have to see if Heat fans agree.