Gordon Hayward was greeted on Saturday by an image of himself wearing a Miami Heat uniform.
Soon, the Heat will know if their vision becomes reality.
With coaches, staff and some current players helping to lay out the red carpet, the Heat made their pitch to the All-Star forward — who is also expected to speak with Boston and Utah in the coming days before announcing his decision.
A person with direct knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press that Hayward was at the arena where the Heat play for several hours, getting a feel for many aspects of the team’s operation and emphasis on their culture. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because neither the Heat nor Hayward revealed any details publicly.
Among the players known to be part of the meeting were Heat center Hassan Whiteside and longtime captain Udonis Haslem — who returned from dropping his son off at college in time to greet Hayward. Haslem is also a free agent, though the Heat indicated to the Miami native again on Saturday that they want him to return next season for what would be his 15th year with his hometown team.
Also in the meeting were Heat President Pat Riley, coach Erik Spoelstra and several assistant coaches. Heat assistants Chris Quinn and Juwan Howard are part of Miami’s summer-league staff; neither was at the summer opener in Orlando on Saturday because they were engaged in what the team described only as “official Heat business.”
It didn’t take much to figure out what that meant.
Most of the specifics of what went on inside the arena when Hayward — who averaged a career-best 21.9 points last season for Utah — visited were kept secret.
One selling point, however, was in full display for all to see. The Heat often hang photos of their current players on the light poles along the street leading to the arena’s parking garages — and had one of Hayward, in the No. 20 jersey the team wants to see him wearing in Miami for years to come, newly installed in time for his arrival.
Another topic that surely came up was how the West is loaded, and how Hayward might be best served heading East.
Golden State has won two of the last three NBA championships, Paul George is now paired with MVP Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Minnesota has made huge strides this summer and San Antonio will still likely be a title contender.
The Heat went into the summer with free agents of their own, like Haslem, James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Luke Babbitt. Haslem has said he wants to stay though no deal has been agreed upon, and Johnson said last month that he’s hopeful to remain in Miami.
“I’m on a mission right now,” Johnson said.
Waiters — who played for $2.9 million last season and said he did so to prove that he’s willing to bet on himself — is talking to the Heat, along with New York, Chicago and Sacramento, among other teams, according to a person briefed on his free-agency plans.
When the free-agent signing moratorium ends on Thursday, Miami will have somewhere around $36 million in cap space — which includes the space that will be freed when the Heat likely waive Chris Bosh in the coming days.
The Heat finished 41-41 last season, missing the playoffs even after erasing an 11-30 first half of the season with a 30-11 second half.
“I just want to have a great summer, come back and have a great team and try to win the championship, contend for championships,” Riley said earlier in the offseason. “I don’t know how many more non-playoff years I can take or I want to take.”
Getting Hayward would certainly make Riley enduring another non-playoff year anytime soon much less likely.
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