Gordon Hayward has quietly improved his game over the past few years, and his strong play should lead to a well-deserved extension.
Marc Stein of ESPN first reported the possibility of an extension:
Stein later provided an updated look at how much the newest deal could be worth:
Official numbers on Favors' extension obtained by ESPN.com show that 2010's No. 3 overall pick received a four-year deal that guarantees just more than $47.7 million. Sources indicate Hayward's deal could still wind up worth more than Favors' contract, given the strong interest leaguewide in the former Butler star and the fears in Utah that Hayward would attract even more lucrative offer sheets in free agency from rival bidders next summer if he gets that far.
With its apparent interest in the young player, Utah has to pay whatever is necessary to keep him from going anywhere else.
However, the roster is not left barren. The frontcourt tandem will immediately be replaced by Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, two recent top-five draft picks who have shown plenty of potential in limited playing time. The squad expects both to make huge jumps this year as full-time starters.
Another long-term prospect that will help out is rookie Trey Burke. Although the point guard will likely miss the start of the season with a broken finger, he is still a highly skilled player who has the potential to be among the best players in the NBA at his position.
Still, Hayward is the glue that will hold this team together. The small forward has increased his points per game every season of his career up to 14.1 points per game last year. This makes him the highest returning scorer on the roster.
Just as importantly, he was able to put up these numbers as a third and sometimes fourth option in the offense. He ranked 12th among NBA small forwards in points per game despite averaging only 10.7 shot attempts.
As he becomes more of a central figure on the Jazz, it would not be surprising to see him approach 20 points per game. He is already showcasing some of that ability in the preseason, leading the team with an average of 15.6 points in seven games so far.
Hayward has loads of skill on the offensive end of the court. He hit 41.5 percent of his three-point shots last season, he can drive to the net and finish inside and he can dish to teammates at a high rate for his size.
On the defensive end, Hayward continues to impress as a hard worker who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
While he does not have the strength or athleticism to guard someone like LeBron James, the Jazz have the ability to move the versatile player to shooting guard and bring in a defensive star like Richard Jefferson at the wing.
Meanwhile, critics can look at his low rebounding totals to question his ability, but he did not need to crash the boards with elite frontcourt players taking care of business. This will not change in the upcoming year.
Hayward is a coach's dream as someone who can do anything to help a team. He is versatile and skillful, and he has the ability to lead the Jazz into the new generation of success.
He has earned a contract extension, and the team must make sure to give the former lottery pick at least market value to make sure he does not go elsewhere.
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