MIAMI — Pat Riley said the Heat had a “Plan A” and a “Plan B” entering free agency. It turns out they will have to turn to their backup plan this summer.
With a letter posted on The Players’ Tribune, Gordon Hayward announced his decision to sign with the Celtics on Tuesday evening to cap off a crazy Fourth of July. The All-Star forward picked Boston over the Heat and incumbent Jazz after holding free-agent meetings with each team over the past few days.
Hayward will reunite with his college coach Brad Stevens in Boston on a four-year deal worth $128 million with a fourth year player option, according to David Aldridge from NBA.com.
“My meetings with all three teams during this process — Miami, Boston and Utah — were just unbelievable,” Hayward wrote on The Players’ Tribune. “They couldn’t have been more impressive. Each meeting left me convinced that the team I’d just met with was the right fit.
“This was a life-changing decision for me and my family, and something we took really seriously. And from the very start of this process, one thing stood out as important: I knew that I wanted the fans and the organizations to hear my decision directly from me. After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics.”
This news was reported earlier in the day just after 2 p.m. when ESPN’s Chris Haynes indicated that Hayward had opted to sign with the Celtics.
But just minutes after that news surfaced Tuesday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted: “Gordon Hayward’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, tells ESPN: ‘Gordon hasn’t made a decision yet. We are still working through it.'” And Aldridge tweeted: “Another league source says Boston hasn’t heard yet directly from Hayward. Again: doesn’t mean he cant pick [Celtics] later; he just hasn’t yet.”
Jazz President Steve Starks then went to Twitter and posted, “We trust Gordon and his agent that no decision has been made. Good communication all day and a great relationship.”
A source told the Palm Beach Post on Tuesday afternoon that Hayward had not yet made a decision and the reports of him choosing the Celtics “are all erroneous.”
It wasn’t until after 7 p.m. that Hayward made his decision to sign with Boston official with a letter on The Players’ Tribune.
This comes after the Heat put the full-court press on Hayward, delaying their other free-agency plans until the sought-after forward made his decision. Miami had the first free-agent meeting with Hayward on Saturday, as the Heat welcomed him to Miami with a small banner outside AmericanAirlines Arena showing the 27-year-old in a Heat uniform.
Saturday’s meeting with Hayward included 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.
Without Hayward, the Heat are left with about $35 million in cap space after officially waiving Chris Bosh. Miami is now expected to focus on its own free agents with Dion Waiters and Johnson still on the market.
According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Knicks continue to speak with Waiters and the Lakers are also interested in him. There have been no reports of any free-agent meetings involving Johnson, who shares the same agent with Hayward.
Even if the majority of that cap space is used to retain Johnson and Waiters as expected, there should be some money remaining to sign another mid-level free agent or two. That’s the space the Heat can use to keep Wayne Ellington and guarantee his $6.3 million salary for the 2017-18 season.
If Miami decides to bring back Johnson, Waiters and Ellington, most of last season’s core will be kept intact. The Heat’s other free agents are center Willie Reed, and forwards Luke Babbitt and Udonis Haslem.
The Heat can also look at outside free-agent options like forward Rudy Gay, a name that has been linked to Miami, or use their cap space in a trade.
Free-agency negotiations began Saturday, but signings are not allowed until Thursday at noon.