The Miami Heat welcomed Gordon Hayward to AmericanAirlines Arena Saturday morning with a large contingent of familiar faces from the franchise and a banner outside the arena with the Jazz All-Star swingman already sporting a Heat jersey.
In addition to front office executives which included team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra, Hayward was greeted by five Heat players — Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson and free agent James Johnson.
The team, hoping to show Hayward how important his visit was, also kept assistants Chris Quinn and Juwan Howard, who are coaching the Heat’s summer league team, in Miami Saturday to also be a part of the welcoming committee for Hayward. Quinn and Howard are expected to rejoin the Heat, which opened summer league action Saturday morning at the Amway Center with a loss to the Charlotte Hornets, in Orlando for Sunday’s game.
The Herald learned late Saturday afternoon the Heat felt the meeting went well. 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, is still expected to meet with Boston Celtics on Sunday and the Jazz in Utah on Monday before deciding on his future.
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There are a few factors that could ultimately help the Heat land Hayward.
Although Utah can offer Hayward 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 necessarily a financial incentive for Hayward to sign a longer deal 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.
When it comes to joining a team that could best help him contend for a title, it’s making more and more sense for Hayward to leave the Western Conference to head East. With All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler traded from Chicago to Minnesota last week, Hawks All-Star power forward Paul Millsap expected to sign with a team in the Western Conference, and former Pacers All-Star Paul George traded to Oklahoma City Friday night, teams behind the Jazz in the standings have improved while teams in the East have weakened.
The problem for Boston, the Eastern Conference runner-up last season, is that George was expected to be the primary selling point for Boston in their meeting Sunday with Hayward. Boston wanted to get a commitment from Hayward before trading for George and pairing them up with All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas and center Al Hoford to form ‘a super team.’
The Celtics still have some nice pieces they can use (draft picks, young players) to lure Hayward in, but the fact George is now off the table weakens Boston’s position some.
The Jazz, meanwhile, made a trade Friday to acquire point guard Ricky Rubio from Minnesota, signaling the departure of point guard George Hill, who was reportedly close to Hayward. Beyond Hayward, though, the Jazz don’t have the cap space to add much more in free agency and would have to pull off another trade to strengthen its roster.
If Miami was to sign Hayward to a max deal ($29.7 million for the 2017-18 season), the Heat would have roughly $5 million left in salary cap space. Riley could then stretch the contract of often injured forward Josh McRoberts to create an additional $4 million in cap space to try and resign either James Johnson or Dion Waiters, two integral parts of the team’s 30-11 second-half turnaround last season.
Johnson, 30, has the same agent as Hayward and told the Miami Herald on Friday he would wait for the Heat to make its sales pitch to Hayward before deciding his own future.