Heat Check

George trade to OKC could hurt Celtics, help Heat in pursuit of Hayward

Indiana Pacers forward Paul George looks to pass against Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson,left, and forward James Johnson during the fourth quarter of a Heat win at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, December 13, 2016.
Indiana Pacers forward Paul George looks to pass against Miami Heat guard Tyler Johnson,left, and forward James Johnson during the fourth quarter of a Heat win at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wednesday, December 13, 2016. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics were hoping to sell free agent All-Star swingman Gordon Hayward on a future alongside Paul George, Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford.

That sales pitch is now moot.

According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, George, a 27-year-old four-time All-Star, was traded from the Indiana Pacers to the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night for guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis.

The Celtics were hoping to receive a commitment from Hayward when he meets with them Sunday before attempting to trade for George.

Now that George, who has one year left on his contract, is on his way to join league MVP Russell Westbrook, the Miami Heat could have a better argument than Boston to convince Hayward to tie his future to South Florida when he begins meeting with teams shortly after the start of free agency at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

Hayward, who averged 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 Utah Jazz, will meet with the Heat in Miami on Saturday.

Center Hassan Whiteside, the league’s leading rebounder, is expected to attend the meeting according to Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype. Whiteside said last month he was busy recruiting unnamed free agents around the league.

Miami’s case for Hayward continues to look better and better for reasons we list below:

MONEY

For starters, a close associate of Hayward’s said Friday he was entering free agency with an open mind and no-clear cut favorite.

Although Utah, who will get the last meeting with Hayward on Monday, can offer him a five-year max contract ($172.4 million) and Boston and Miami can only offer him four-year max contracts ($127.8 million), there isn’t an overwhelming financial advantage for Hayward to sign with the Jazz. As a seven-year veteran, Hayward would be better off signing a contract that would allow him to opt out after the 2019-20 season (three seasons) so he can take advantage of his 10 years of NBA service and seek more money with a new contract.

With this year’s salary cap set at $99 million, players with 10-plus years of service are eligibile to sign five-year max contracts at $201.2 million. Hayward could essentially structure his contract to take advtange of a similar deal after three seasons whether he’s in Boston, Utah or Miami.

Also a factor in the Heat’s favor: Hayward would be subject to state income tax in Utah and Massachusetts and not Florida.

ROSTERS

The Jazz made a trade Friday to acquire point guard Ricky Rubio from Minnesota, signaling the departure of point guard George Hill. It’s unclear how that move could help or hurt Utah in its attempt to keep Hayward from straying. He was reportedly close to Hill.

The Jazz have roughly $15 million in potential cap space, but can go over the cap to re-sign Hayward since they own his early bird rights. Outside of that, Rubio appears to be the biggest addition to the roster Utah will be able to make.

Boston, the Eastern Conference runner-up last season, has close to $29 million in available cap space, but other assets (plenty of first round picks) it can trade to potentially bolster the roster around Hayward. The problem is George was their primary target and now Clippers All-Star power forward Blake Griffin is also off the board.

Some thought the Heat could potentially show some interest in Griffin if the pursuit of Hayward came up short. But after meeting with front office officials and several teammates Friday night, the five-time All-Star agreed to a five-year, $172 million max contract to stay put in Los Angeles.

As for the Heat’s roster, Miami will have roughly $35 million in available cap space – just enough to sign one player to a max contract this summer once Chris Bosh is released.

If Riley is able to sway Hayward to the Heat, his first-year max salary of $29.7 million would leave Miami with less than $6 million in cap space. Riley would then likely try to create additional cap space through trades or other maneuvers to try and re-sign forward James Johnson or guard Dion Waiters.

Johnson, 30, told the Miami Herald on Friday he would wait for the Heat to meet with Hayward and make its sales pitch before meeting with other teams or considering other offers. Johnson, a key contributor to Miami's 30-11 second half finish last season, reiterated Friday his intent is to stay with the Heat. He and Hayward share the same agent, Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein.

WEAKENED EAST

Another factor for Hayward to weigh that hurts Utah: the Western Conference continues to add talent while the Eastern Conference loses it.

George’s trade Friday weakened another team that finished ahead of Miami in the East last season and beefed up a team that finished just behind the Jazz in the Western Conference standings.

The Chicago Bulls, who finished just ahead of the Heat for the eighth seed due to a head-to-head tiebreaker, traded All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler to Minnesota last week on draft night. Most are now penciling the T’Wolves in as a playoff team next season out West.

Atlanta All-Star power forward Paul Millsap could be the next player to switch conferences. According to reports, the frontrunners to sign Millsap are Denver and Minnesota. Sacramento and Phoenix. The Hawks, who finished fifth in the East last season, already traded away center Dwight Howard to Charlotte.

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