NBA free agency moves fast, so fast that the equation already has changed in advance of the Miami Heat’s scheduled Saturday meeting with Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward.
As the clocked ticked toward the midnight start of the free-agency negotiating period, the Utah Jazz utilized their remaining space from the league’s 2016-17 salary-cap calendar in a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves for point guard Ricky Rubio.
For Heat President Pat Riley, it means attempting to sell the benefits of playing with Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic as opposed to Rudy Gobert and Rubio, who was acquired for a 2018 first-round pick.
The Heat’s meeting with Hayward will feature Riley, General Manager Andy Elisburg, coach Erik Spoelstra and CEO Nick Arison, with former Heat center and current executive Alonzo Mourning also expected to be part of the presentation.
All the while, looming in the shadows are the Boston Celtics, the third prime suitor for Hayward, who are expected to attempt to lure Hayward with a vow of also adding disgruntled Indiana Pacers forward Paul George. The Pacers appeared headed toward a total rebuild, with Indiana point guard Jeff Teague linked as a replacement in Minnesota for Rubio.
Hayward will follow Saturday’s meeting with the Heat with sessions with the Celtics and then the Jazz on Monday.
That timetable could leave the Heat and their $35 million cap stash in limbo, as the clock ticks away on other possibilities.
Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, for example, had a meeting scheduled with the Phoenix Suns at the start of free agency, with a preference of conducting his business on the West Coast. Griffin, according to ESPN, has stated a preference of completing his negotiations as soon as possible.
Then there is the Heat’s holding pattern with their own free agents, with James Johnson and Dion Waiters standing as a Riley fallback position. The Heat have an advantage with Johnson, who, like Hayward, is represented by agent Mark Bartelstein, therefore positioned for a more patient approach.
The free-agent list continued to grow just hours before the start of the league’s annual free-for-all, with veterans Rajon Rondo, Mike Dunleavy and Gerald Henderson waived before their 2017-18 salaries would have become guaranteed.
Rondo’s release by the Chicago Bulls leaves former Heat guard Dwyane Wade essentially as the last veteran standing on that roster. Wade has been linked to a buyout of the final season of his contract amid that makeover.
As for the Heat, Riley a week ago curiously omitted a letter when discussing the free-agency whirlwind.
“We have a plan. We have a Plan A. And we have a Plan B,” he said. “There’s no D, E, F or G.”
Plan C, though, might be coming to light, with an Eastern Conference official saying he would not be surprised if the Heat reprise the play they made for power forward Serge Ibaka before February’s NBA trading deadline.
Ibaka long has held a fascination for the Heat because of an offensive game that takes opposing defenders to the perimeter, and a defensive game capable of deterrence at the rim.
Ibaka was dealt from the Orlando Magic to the Toronto Raptors at midseason. The Raptors are allowed to exceed the salary cap to re-sign Ibaka because of the Bird Rights that accompanied him in his trades from the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Magic and then to Toronto.
The Raptors, who dealt promising forward Terrence Ross to the Magic to obtain Ibaka, are expected to make a major push to retain Ibaka. However, should Toronto lose point guard Kyle Lowry in free agency, with the Timberwolves now a potential suitor, it might lead to a Raptors rebuild that has Ibaka shaking free.
While free-agency negotiations are allowed starting July 1, teams are not allowed to sign agreements until the conclusion of the NBA signing moratorium at noon on July 6.
Among the concern that had the Magic moving on from Ibaka was unease that he only could play defensively against centers, which could limit the ability to potentially play Ibaka alongside Whiteside in a Heat lineup.
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