The Utah Jazz sacrificed a mediocre present for the hope of a glorious future.
Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors will determine the soundness of that strategy.
Both were top-10 picks in 2010, and they'll enter the 2013-14 season as the co-faces of the franchise. They'll also need to have finalized a contract extension between now and Utah's Nov. 1 season opener to avoid hitting the restricted free-agent market next summer.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune's Bill Oram, Utah has already opened extension talks with both players. But the Jazz have also left themselves an out, leaving open the possibility of each player setting their own price in free agency next summer.
In a perfect world, both deals get done before Hayward and Favors take on their new roles. Utah has invested heavily in each—using the No. 9 overall selection in 2010 on Hayward, netting Favors as the main course of the return package that sent Deron Williams to the Brooklyn Nets—and largely gutted the roster around them.
But correctly gauging the proper price on a pair of fourth-year players is hardly an exact science. With both vying for Utah's No. 1 spot, the difficulty of this high wire act grows exponentially.
The Case for Gordon Hayward
Hayward's the safer pick of the pair, but don't confuse that label with a lack of upside. The budding Swiss Army knife does a little of everything well and has the chance to be great in a number of different areas.
As Utah's third scorer last season behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, who both left Salt Lake City over the summer, Hayward left few statistical categories untouched.
He was one of only five players—along with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and O.J. Mayo—to average at least 14.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists and a 40.0-plus three-point percentage with at least 10 three-point attempts last season, per CBS Sports' Zach Harper.
He's a smart enough player to run the offense for stretches.
His handles aren't the flashiest, but they're consistently effective. He won't dribble himself into trouble (career 1.4 turnovers per game), and he can carve out paths to the basket (23.8 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2012-13 came at the rim, via Basketball-Reference.com).
A knock-down shooter, career .451/.401/.811 slash line, he'll bring the most polished resume to coach Tyrone Corbin's No. 1 scorer's auditions.
Defensively he was equally effective last season. Via 82games.com, he held both opposing shooting guards (13.6) and small forwards (12.4) well below the league average 15.0 player efficiency rating.
He has good size for either perimeter spot, 6'8" and 210 pounds, with deceptively strong athleticism. Throw in his off-the-charts basketball IQ, and it comes as little surprise that ESPN's Marc Stein reported Hayward was turning plenty of heads at the Las Vegas-based Team USA minicamp earlier this summer.
He's yet to enjoy free rein of Utah's offense. But with his track record showing marked improvement in each of his three NBA seasons, it's hard to imagine him buckling in the moment.
The Case for Derrick Favors
Buying high on Favors is a little more complicated. The Georgia Tech product can literally jump through any ceiling he's given, but a formerly crowded frontcourt in Utah shrouded an already small sample size.
When he's been on the floor, his talent level is widely apparent. He's averaged at least 14 points and 11 rebounds per-36-minutes in each of the last two seasons and sent back an impressive 1.7 shots in just 23.2 minutes of action last season.
A freakish athlete standing 6'10" and tipping the scales just shy of 250 pounds, he can dominate the NBA paint like a D-1 prospect wreaks havoc in the high school ranks.
But projecting how that dominance will carry over from the second team to the starting five is a tall task (no pun intended).
He submitted some evidence last season to make it a bit easier, but again his run was so brief it's hard to put a lot of faith behind the numbers.
He started eight games in 2012-13 and averaged 10.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks as a member of the opening lineup, via NBA.com.
His strong defensive play should translate to any scenario, but his 41.9 field-goal percentage as a starter, compared with his 49.2 mark as a reserve, opens the door to some questions that the Jazz may not feel comfortable answering just yet.
With that extension deadline looming, though, Utah can't avoid making a leap of faith in one direction or another.
To Act Now or To Act Later
Utah doesn't have to extend either player before the Oct. 31 deadline. The Jazz will hold the rights to both next summer, so if they want to keep one (or both) they'll have the power to do that.
But they will risk losing some power should they choose to wait. No longer will they be responsible for dictating the market for these budding stars; they'll be forced to react to an outsider's rate.
Hayward and Favors aren't max players yet. But after a season of limitless minutes being thrown their way, it's possible that one (or both) plays themselves into that conversation.
Forced to choose, I'd say Favors is the one worth locking up now. Despite Hayward filling the trendy S.A.K. role, Favors has the size and ceiling that teams will pay a premium to acquire.
If Hayward realizes his potential, it may not look all that different from what we've already seen.
He's averaged nearly 30 minutes a night in each of the last two seasons; so while an increase in playing time is expected, it won't be nearly as dramatic as what Favors faces.
And if Favors finds the polished skills to complement his natural gifts, he could be the All-Star presence Utah hasn't had since the departures of Williams and Carlos Boozer.
The risk factor is unavoidable with Favors, but so too is his potential for greatness. No one on this roster will play a more critical role in the franchise's future than the tantalizing 22-year-old.
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