There is no doubt, especially with Chris Paul now off the market (he was never really on it I guess) and a member of the Houston Rockets, that Gordon Hayward is the grand prize in NBA free agency 2017.
Hayward is 27 and coming off a career year where he set a new career-high in scoring and shooting percentage from the field and beyond the arc. He is also one of the better wing players in the NBA a little devoid of talent at that position.
There appear to be three real suitors for Hayward’s services next season including his current team the Utah Jazz, the Boston Celtics (and former college head coach Brad Stevens) and ever debonair Pat Riley and the Miami Heat.
According to a report from ESPN, Riley and the Heat get the first crack at Hayward when free agency officially begins on Saturday.
“Gordon Hayward will take his first free-agent meeting with the Miami Heat on Saturday, a source told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. Hayward will then be traveling Sunday to meet Utah on Monday, with Boston coming after that…
Sources previously told ESPN the Jazz regard the Heat as no less a threat to lure Hayward away than the Celtics, whose interest in the former Butler star has been anticipated for some time, largely thanks to the presence of Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, on Boston’s bench.”
It really does seem to be a toss-up where Hayward could end up signing, as some around the league think him to Boston is a done deal, while others (including the Jazz) think he is staying put with a team on the rise in Utah. There are also others who are very aware of the charm of Pat Riley (I mean his did land the biggest free agent coup of all-time) and the appeal for a rich NBA basketball player in his 20s to play in South Beach.
This is complete conjecture on my part, but the fact that the Utah Jazz are the team in the middle and not the team Hayward with meet with first or last considering they are his current home seems like a bad sign. You would think the current team always gets the first or the last crack at retaining a star, I may be reading in between the lines here, but that makes me feel that he may be more likely to be out of the door than I originally thought.
My guess is that he goes to bed on Saturday night thinking he will be a member of the Miami Heat and dreams of frolicking on South Beach, but then is torn meeting with the Jazz on Saturday and then ultimately decides he wants to live in a new area and become a part of the history and tradition of the Boston Celtics and play for the coach that first recruited him and believed in him over a decade ago.
You can bet that Hayward’s decision will delay Blake Griffin’s, the next big star on the market, as the Heat and Celtics focus their attention on Hayward first. With Chris Paul out of town and the opportunity to stay in Los Angeles (Blake loves the limelight and being involved with comedy and Hollywood) and be the guy will be enough for Griffin to stay put.
It will be fun to see how the NBA landscape changes in the next few weeks.