6.30.2017

Riles Batting Lead-Off with Hayward

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June 30, 2017
So Pat Riley bats leadoff with Gordon Hayward, eh? What's that mean? That the Heat are the bar by which everyone else will be measured, or that they're the appetizer before the main courses of Boston and Utah?

What's the motivation here from Hayward?



Because the Heat's motivation is as abundantly clear as it is overtly ambitious when Riley meets Hayward on Saturday, hours after the start of free agency. They want to effectively swap Chris Bosh's money for the good, versatile, modern-NBA game of Hayward.

OK, he's not LeBron, who changed the Heat's vistas. And he's not Shaquille O'Neal or Alonzo Mourning, whom Riley got to kick-start big eras. But Hayward would be a sizable upgrade on a building team, especially since Riley once again has a limited hand to play.

And that limited hand is the real story about the Heat as free agency starts. Everyone is enchanted with Riley's presence, and how his Godfather image can sway minds, because we've seen his shamanistic magic work through the years.

But let's be realistic. Riley isn't the big player this free agency. Boston's Danny Ainge is. The Celtics are positioned perfectly. They've accumulated a treasure chest of high draft picks to trade with Indiana for the one available franchise player in this period, Paul George.

They can then use George to entice Hayward. In fact, Hayward's former college coach, Brad Stevens, has a winning recruiting line as the current Celtics coach.

"With you and George, we can beat Cleveland to win the East," Stevens can say.

What does Riley have to counter that?

"We're building for the day when LeBron leaves?"

Sure, Riley has a better hand than a year ago, when he went into a meeting with Kevin Durant with the cloud of Chris Bosh's future and Dwyane Wade's non-help hanging over him.

But he's still selling belief in the Heat organization more than tangible roster proof. They're a .500 team looking to take the next step, not a team positioned to vault into the NBA Finals, unless the Celtics somehow blow it in the coming days. Which they could.

Riley has opportunely taken advantage of other franchises' miscalculations. Cleveland and LeBron. The Lakers and Shaq. You see it all the time, franchises not understanding what they have in a manner Riley does.

Can they hope Boston does the same?

If not, they'll most likely get Boston's leftovers. That wouldn't be such a bad thing. For instance, if Boston trades for George and signs Hayward, that means the Heat would chase Blake Griffin, who just might thrive in Miami.

He's 28. He checks all the boxes of scoring, rebounding and passing. He also has a history of injuries, and so could use a dose of the Heat's ability to get players into tip-top shape. And, frustrated with the Clippers, Griffin could use coach Erik Spoelstra's ability to unlock talent on the court.

But here's the thing with Hayward and Griffin. They aren't straight and simple additions to the roster. Their maximum deals would mean existing players won't return. James Johnson? Dion Waiters? Probably one of them, depending on who's signed.

To even dream of getting George, the Heat would have to include Justise Winslow, Tyler Johnson and either the money of Wayne Ellington or Josh McRoberts in a deal. That only would work if Boston misplays its hand, too.

So if the Heat add this free-agent period, they still have to subtract. Riley said recently the Heat enter free agency with a "Plan A, and we have a Plan B. There's no D, E, F or G." Why would there be? This is pretty simple:

Plan A: Shoot for Hayward or Griffin - what the heck, throw in trading for George, too. Best hope: Hayward likes South Florida winters and loves meeting Riley. Realistic hope: They get whoever Boston doesn't.

Plan B: The Heat bring back last year's team by re-signing Waiters and James Johnson, add a complementary player or two, play up the 30-11 second-half record last season and shoot for No. 3 in the East.

Everyone expects magic this time of year from Riley. But the magic this time would start with Boston mistakes. It could happen. It's just not what you build a free-agent blueprint around.


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