When the Utah Jazz were unable to negotiate an extension for Gordon Hayward before the October 31 deadline, fans of the team let out a collective grumble that can still be heard echoing from the Rocky Mountains.
Hayward achieved face-of-the-franchise status this past summer when Utah allowed Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye to walk in free agency. The gaping hole left by the departure of four starters would have to be filled by a young core led by Hayward.
And after fellow "Core Four" member Derrick Favors received a lucrative extension, all indications pointed to Hayward's deal getting done next. ESPN's Marc Stein reported back on October 20, "Heard first strong rumbles this weekend that Gordon Hayward, like Derrick Favors, will indeed get extension from Jazz before Oct. 31 buzzer"
But, that buzzer sounded and now Hayward will be a restricted free agent this summer. That means another team can sign him to an offer sheet and that Utah could either match it and retain Hayward or allow the offering team to take the young wing off its hands.
Now Stein is predicting that Hayward could command max-level money, saying:
There are too many Hayward fans in front offices around the league for the former Butler star not to cost the Jazz more later than a deal would have cost them now, given how many teams are projected to have cap space and knowing that the price tags on restricted free agents are always higher than they seemingly should be because the bidders are trying to dissuade the home team from matching.
He goes on to mention the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics as two likely suitors. Both are coached by Hayward fans. Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek was an assistant for the Jazz during Hayward's formative years and Boston's Brad Stevens coached him at Butler University.
As a completely biased Jazz fan, I have to believe that remaining in Utah would be the best situation for Hayward. But if they do decide not to match whatever offer he receives, Phoenix and Boston make sense too.
The Suns have some of the most important parts of their rebuilt foundation in place.
23-year-old Eric Bledsoe looks like the real deal at point guard, as he's averaged 22 points and 8.7 assists a game early this season. And Miles Plumlee looks like a rebounding, rim-protecting machine inside.
But what Phoenix lacks is punch from the wing and point forward Hayward could provide that. He's a career 40-percent shooter from three-point range and his presence outside would force defenses to stay home out there. That would make the lane roomier as Bledsoe slashes to the rim.
Hayward first made a name for himself in Brad Stevens' system at Butler, where he led the Bulldogs to within inches of a national title. Had Hayward's half-court, buzzer-beating heave hit the glass an inch or two lower, he and Stevens would have been champions in 2010.
Now, the coach in that duo is leading the rebuilding Celtics, who like the Suns have a few foundational pieces in place—just not at shooting guard.
Boston would probably have to find some takers for a couple of their bigger contracts to have the cap space to land Hayward. If they did so without losing Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, the Celtics would suddenly have a very capable trio.
This spot makes the most sense for a few reasons.
Hayward is already the franchise player in Utah, has chemistry with Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, and he's the keystone of the offense.
The Jazz may be struggling early but the offense, initiated by Hayward, has shown flashes of brilliance. Pick-and-pops with Kanter and pick-and-rolls with Favors look like they could develop into devastating sets.
The more time this unit spends together, the better it'll be. In a few years, the Core Four could be legitimate Western Conference contenders.
Of course, all this contingent upon Hayward living up to expectations this season.
So far, his struggles shooting in 2013-14 (37 percent from the field) have maybe tempered those slightly, but his overall game looks strong. He's averaging 15 points, 6.3 rebounds and five assists a game.
I'm not sure if that will warrant max money, but of course those numbers could improve over the course of the year.
They could also hold steady or get worse. If that happens, Utah might actually get Hayward for a bit less than they would have last month.
Either way, there's a good chance any offer will be matched. If it's a big one, the Jazz will have to wonder if they should've been more willing to open the checkbook in 2013.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.
For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.
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