For months, the Jazz and Celtics have been viewed as the most likely landing spots for free-agent-to-be Gordon Hayward. However, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com (via Twitter), there are increased whispers that Utah is just as worried about the Heat as they are about the Celtics in the Hayward sweepstakes.
Unlike the Celtics, who would likely have to make at least one trade in order to clear the necessary cap room to sign Hayward to a maximum salary contract, the Heat are currently projected to have more than enough space for such a deal.
Miami’s decisions on non-guaranteed players like Wayne Ellington could affect their cap room, and pursuing Hayward would affect the team’s ability to make competitive offers to both Dion Waiters and James Johnson, but landing Hayward would certainly be realistic financially for the Heat.
The Jazz remain the odds-on favorite to re-sign Hayward, since they can go over the cap to lock him up, and can offer him more years and more money than any other suitor. But if Utah is reluctant to put a full five-year max on the table, or if Hayward is looking for a change of scenery, the Heat would be an interesting option. The state of Florida doesn’t have an income tax, and Miami is certainly more of a free agent destination than Salt Lake City, though Hayward has roots in Utah.
Hayward, 27, enjoyed the best season of his career in 2016/17, averaging 21.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, and 3.5 APG, with a shooting line of .471/.398/.844. He’s considered one of this summer’s top-tier free agents, along with players like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Kyle Lowry, and Paul Millsap. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are also expected to technically become free agents, though they’re virtual locks to remain in Golden State.