Coming into this free agency period, one of the players I was most excited about was Gordon Hayward. He’s a young, versatile player with a ton of upside. He hasn’t gotten much attention due to playing in the smallest of markets out in Utah, but I’d say that makes him even more intriguing. Turns out, I’m not the only one who feels that way, as all of a sudden, the restricted free agent has become a contender for a maximum contract.
That’s right. A maximum contract. For a player who was a number one option on a 25-57 team. For a player who led his team in scoring at only 16.4 points per game and did that off 41 percent from the field (and only 30 percent from beyond the arc). Still, he’s primed to demand money and it looks like Utah isn’t ready to let him walk.
Jazz vowing to match any offer to RFA Gordon Hayward but fresh rumbles tonight that Cavs weighing wisdom of big offer sheet to Hayward
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 1, 2014
The Jazz are reportedly set to match any figure, and while any team would be interested in Hayward, the two teams that seem primed to make offers that could make Utah think twice are the Suns and the Cavaliers.1
I definitely see why the Jazz are so desperate to keep Hayward. He’s a budding star, and pairing him with Burke, Exum and Favors could make for a really solid core moving forward. If the salary cap skyrockets in two years like many are predicting it will, what’s a max contract now could be a bargain by the time the Jazz are in a position to really contend. I get all of that. Still, paying Hayward far more than he’s worth could come back to bite them hard if he doesn’t mature into a perennial all-star.
It’s been reported that the Jazz are also talking to Trevor Ariza,2 presumably as an insurance plan for if they decide not to match an insane Hayward offer. Though Ariza has less upside, he wouldn’t be a bad alternative, especially considering how well he played in the playoffs last season.
It isn’t as if there aren’t other options available as well. The Jazz are a franchise that isn’t going to attract any of the “win now” free agents, that much is obvious, but there are plenty of second-tier wings on the market. Nick Young could be a good fit to fill in the gaps, though he’s not as reliable as most teams would like in a starter. Shawn Marion probably wants to win now, but for the right price he may be interested. Caron Butler is in the same boat, though not nearly on the same level. Prior to his signing with the Pistons, Jodie Meeks could have been a solid option.
But when a guy like Meeks, who averaged 15.7 points on 46.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3-point range brings in just over $6 million per season, there’s no way that Hayward, despite having a lot more potential at this point, should get more than double that.
As I’ve said, I really like Hayward. I think he has the potential to be a major player on a contender next season. But he’s not a number one option on one of those teams, at least not yet. If the Jazz can sign him to a four-year, $45 million dollar deal they did well. Anything more than that, and it may be time to let Gordon Hayward walk.