It’s safe to assume Gordon Hayward, one of the NBA’s elite impending free agents (likely to exercise his opt-out this summer), is already among the Miami Heat’s premier targets in Free Agency this July.
With Chris Bosh’s contract clearing the books and a bunch of soon-to-be free agents of its own, Miami will have the cap space to add a max contract and then some. Considering Kevin Durant and Steph Curry are likely pipe dreams, Hayward’s name could easily find its way to No. 1 on Pat Riley’s wish list.
Already the noise beneath a potential Hayward signing has started to bubble to the surface, according to the Daily News’ Frank Isola, in a piece comparing Phil Jackson’s ineptitude to Riley’s legend.
“Riley has a home court advantage because Miami is a prime free agent destination,” he wrote. “The weather, the zero state income tax and the chance to play for a top franchise are too good for a lot of players to turn down. There are already whispers that if Utah can’t re-sign Gordon Hayward he could end up in Miami.”
When it comes to free agent whales, I’ll absolute take “whispers.”
While Hayward doesn’t resonate with most fans as a legitimate superstar yet, his game speaks otherwise. The 6-foot-8 wing is an efficient scorer both on and off the ball, a rarity in league today. He’s averaging 21.8 points on a gorgeous 47-40-85 (FG-3FG-FT) shooting split.
He ranks in the Top 10 in Win Shares and in the Top 15 in True Shooting Percentage. Gordon is an elite offensive player who — and this is key on a team with a facilitator like Goran Dragic — doesn’t require the ball in his hands to be effective. While his reputation defensively isn’t quite on par with his offense, he’s not a liability like some of the league’s other prominent scorers.
Hayward grades out beautifully across multiple scoring categories, notes The Ringer, ranking in the 80th percentile or better in pick-and-roll, spot-up, off-screen, transition, and cuts.
The good news for Miami is Hayward is after a championship, first and foremost, per ESPN’s Zach Lowe:
Utah wants to get healthy and show Hayward this nucleus can do damage in the postseason. “It comes down to where I can compete for a title,” he said. “Where I live — that doesn’t affect me. The limelight doesn’t matter to me. I just want to make a run at it.”
While the Heat isn’t contender-quality today — how could they be with Bosh’s massive salary taking up such a large chunk of the cap? — it would appear they’re a star away from contending in the inferior Eastern Conference. The No. 1 seed, Cleveland, is 19-18 on a the road this year for heaven’s sake.
Miami’s biggest need is some offensive juice on the wing, another player who can create and score efficiently in addition to Dragic. God bless Dion Waiters but he’s not in the same class as Hayward.
Also working in Miami’s favor is it’ll be difficult for the Jazz to climb much higher in the West. While Utah is a strong team this season — currently the No. 4 seed — it will be a challenge for them to reach the juggernaut status of Golden State and San Antonio. It has always been difficult for Utah to attract prime free agents.
Hayward’s fit in Miami is a clean one. I imagine he’d play plenty at the four next to Hassan Whiteside. A lineup featuring Whiteside, Hayward, and Goran Dragic at its core has the potential to do some serious damage in the East.
Toss in solid supporting pieces in Tyler Johnson, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, and potentially James Johnson (if they’d be able to afford him after Hayward), and while it may take a while for Erik Spoelstra to put it all together, they’d have enough to contend — in the East — which is all you can ask for.
Some may want Miami to save their space for the following summer if they’re unable to land a mega-whale in the form of Durant or Curry but remember Tyler Johnson’s deal explodes in Year 3 to $19 million. Making the big move this offseason is more likely, especially considering Riley wants to contend as quickly as possible.
Gordon Hayward is easily the most plausible whale on the Miami Heat’s radar this summer. Can Pat reel him in?