MIAMI — Before Gordon Hayward decided to sign with the Celtics in free agency earlier this month, he thought he might end up with the Heat.
After traveling to Miami to meet with Heat players, coaches and management on the first stop of his free agency tour on July 1, Hayward came away so impressed that he immediately texted his agent Mark Bartelstein: “Wow, that’s going to be really tough to beat.”
“It was all positive stuff,” Hayward said of the immediate reaction to his free-agent meeting with the Heat on an episode of The Woj Pod with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski released Monday.
The Heat’s meeting with Hayward and his wife, Robyn, included president Pat Riley, general manager Andy Elisburg, CEO Nick Arison and Heat executive Alonzo Mourning, coach Erik Spoelstra and part of his staff. Players also spoke to Hayward, including Hassan Whiteside, Udonis Haslem and James Johnson.
“We wake up and we went to their arena,” Hayward said of the meeting on The Woj Pod. “All of their facilities in Miami are in the arena. So we go there and we meet Pat Riley, and my wife is with me for all of this. We meet Pat Riley’s wife and both of them were outstanding people. Immediately you’re hit with like this family vibe that they have because we eat breakfast, they have a lot of their staff there, and we meet the owner’s son [Nick Arison] and his wife. It was very, very casual and it was an introductory ‘get to know us’ type sit-down breakfast and meeting.
“That was really cool because I think all the teams understood that you weren’t just trying to recruit me, you’re trying to recruit my wife. I’m a big family guy and we have two little girls. So making sure that Robyn was comfortable and was going to be comfortable was a huge part of it. They did a tremendous job of that. After we sat down and kind of just talked with everybody, we then went and toured the facility. We went out to the practice court and went out to the main floor and just walked around and saw the locker room, the weight room and everything. The facilities were obviously really, really nice. Then you kind of get into the basketball meeting where the girls kind of went off their separate way, and I got to talk with Pat and Spo.”
Those basketball meetings included a 45-minute session with Spoelstra that lived up to Hayward’s expectations.
The other two teams in the Hayward sweepstakes featured coaches who already had a relationship with him. Boston’s Brad Stevens was his college coach at Butler and Utah’s Quin Snyder coached him for three seasons with the Jazz, but Hayward insists that didn’t put Miami at a disadvantage.
“I went into Miami completely fresh, not really knowing anybody,” Hayward said. “My agent, Mark Bartelstein, had told me how much he admires Spo and how much he thought of him as a tremendous coach. So it was something where I went into it curious and intrigued just to talk with him and see his philosophies and his thoughts. I definitely was not disappointed in the meeting we had. It went by really quick, but it was a great meeting with Spo. We just talked one-on-one, too. He’s a tremendous coach. I could feel it just in that meeting.”
Hayward was curious to find out more about Riley, too.
“That was something I was interested in, for sure,” Hayward said of being recruiting by Riley. “Mark [Bartelstein] tried to tell me, ‘After you talk with him, you’re going to be like I’m ready to sign right now.’ And you do get that vibe from him. He’s a great motivator. We watched some videos, too, of the Heat and their tradition. He definitely makes you feel like you’re going to be competing for championships year in and year out. I was curious just to see what type of guy and person he was. It just seemed like he was really a family guy with his wife.”
Following Hayward’s meeting in Miami, he met with the Celtics and Jazz before announcing his decision to sign with Boston on July 4.
Once Hayward picked the Celtics, the Heat moved on to “Plan B” and found a way to keep last season’s core intact. Miami signed James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Kelly Olynyk to long-term contracts, and also fit Wayne Ellington’s $6.3 million salary for next season under the cap to keep him on the roster.
“Miami was a spot that the more and more we talked about it, the more and more it looked like this would be a really, really good fit for me,” Hayward said. “We actually broke it down and had like a points system of different pros and cons on a weighted scale of different things that each city would represent and each team would represent, and Miami was always near the top of the rankings when we did it. I did it maybe 10 or 20 times and it always changed. That’s how close everything was, so it really came down to the visits.”