ORLANDO – Gordon Hayward was greeted by Miami Heat players, coaches, officials. … and a banner of his likeness as he pulled into AmericanAirlines Arena early Saturday.
The Heat had the first meeting with one of the biggest names remaining in free agency, hoping to lure the Utah Jazz small forward to South Florida. Involved in the meeting were owner Micky Arison, President Pat Riley, CEO Nick Arison, GM Andy Elisburg, Alonzo Mourning, coach Erik Spoelstra and most of his coaching staff.
Several players also spoke to Hayward including Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem and free agent James Johnson. Hayward and Johnson share the same agent, Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein.
Miami even delayed the arrival of coaches Chris Quinn and Juwan Howard to Orlando for the start of summer league, keeping them back in South Florida for the meeting. Eric Glass coached the Heat in their summer league opener, a 74-67 loss to Charlotte.
The Heat are hoping to land Hayward, who, if he leaves Utah, would be the biggest name to switch teams this summer.
Hayward, 27, will command a max contract starting at $29.7 million. If he re-signs with Utah he could earn $172.4 million over five years. If he leaves the Jazz the most he can make is $127.8 million over four years, the difference being an 8 percent raise each year compared to 5 percent.
Hayward, though, is thought to be seeking either a three-year deal or a contract with a player option after three years so he can then take advantage of the increased max contract for a 10-year veteran. In that case he would make more money signing with the Heat considering Florida does not have a state income tax.
Hayward also has a meeting set up with Boston on Sunday and Utah on Monday and is expected to make his decision soon after meeting with the Jazz. While the Heat and Celtics appear to be the favorites, Boston was planning to sell Hayward on joining a super team, one that included Paul George.
But after Oklahoma City swooped in and acquired George from Indiana late Friday, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was scrambling to put together to Plan B.
If the Heat secure Hayward they will turn to re-signing power forward James Johnson. That would give Miami a lineup of point guard Goran Dragic, possibly Josh Richardson or Tyler Johnson at shooting guard, Hayward, Johnson and Whiteside.
Miami then would have a $4.3 million exception to spend on a lower-level free agent.
If Hayward shuns the Heat the options would be James Johnson and re-signing shooting guard Dion Waiters, which could leave them with $15 to $17 million more to boost the roster. Or the Heat could pursue Rudy Gay, who has never hid his desire to play in South Florida, to play shooting guard.
Either way, the Heat should climb in the Eastern Conference considering how many teams have been weakened through free agency or trades. The Heat tied for the eighth-best record in the East with a 41-41 record and missed out on the playoffs because of a tie-breaker