And since the team and Hayward's representation failed to reach an agreement on an extension back in October, he'll be a restricted free agent this summer and the risk of losing him is very real.
His career-high averages of 17 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists have caught the attention of others around the league:
According to a GM, the Suns will do everything possible this summer to sign Gordon Hayward to an unmatchable offer sheet....— Peter Vecsey (@PeterVecsey1) November 21, 2013
Phoenix makes a ton of sense, as Jeff Hornacek was an assistant with the Jazz last season and spent a lot of time working with the guards.
The Salt Lake Tribune's Gordon Monson relayed Hayward's thoughts on working with Hornacek, "Having a great shooter like that work with me helped a lot — not just with mechanics, but with my confidence."
Playing with a familiar coach could be enticing for Hayward there, and in Boston as well. Grantland's Bill Simmons recently speculated on the possibility of his favorite team making a run at Hayward:
From today's BS Report - I believe Boston will make a big play for Gordon Hayward, either a Feb. trade or a restricted FA offer in July.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) January 7, 2014
The Celtics are of course coached by Brad Stevens, who led Hayward to the NCAA title game while the two were at Butler.
A reunion in Beantown might be worth a big offer from Boston's front office.
But of course Utah will have the chance to match any offer since Hayward is a restricted free agent. So just how much should the Jazz be willing to pay to keep their leading scorer and No. 1 option this offseason?
In November, ESPN's Marc Stein reported on the extension negotiations, saying of the Jazz, "they were ultimately hesitant on deadline day to go beyond the $50 million mark..."
So if an "unmatchable offer sheet" from Phoenix or some other team comes in over $50 million, will the Jazz pass on matching?
From the Stein report: "It's believed the Jazz are prepared to match four-year offers that Hayward attracts in restricted free agency..."
If the team fails to do so, it'd not only lose its most productive player this season, but a guy with whom the fans have fallen in love.
On Twitter, I posed the question, "How would you feel if Utah lost Gordon Hayward to free agency this summer?"
Here's a quick sampling of the responses:
@AndrewDBailey it would be consistent to how we have lost many great players— Parker Pratt (@ParkerPratt13) February 1, 2014
@AndrewDBailey if we don't get Jabari, it would be devastating— Casey Nye (@CaseyNye3) February 1, 2014
@AndrewDBailey I would cry— David Zuniga (@DavidZ568) February 1, 2014
Would spending a few million more than anticipated be so awful if it meant keeping the fans happy?
After all, they're already having to deal with the pains of rooting for a rebuilding team, which now sits at 16-30 following a Friday night loss to the Golden State Warriors.
And they know all too well how difficult it's been for Utah to attract big-name free agents in the past (the biggest signing of the last two decades was Carlos Boozer).
Smaller-market teams like the Jazz have to build through the draft, and sustained success comes from hanging on to the good picks.
Hayward's definitely been a good one. Utah used the No. 9 selection to snag him in 2010, and he has proven himself to be a capable point forward.
But does that mean he'll be worth more $50 million dollars? His numbers have been great, but they've come in spurts, as Hayward's been inconsistent in his new role.
His true shooting percentage of 51.9 is the worst of his career, and he's failed to reach double figures in six games this season.
That, in combination with the fact that Utah will have several other young players (Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Trey Burke and whomever they draft in 2014) up for extensions in the next few years could cause the Jazz to balk at matching a huge offer sheet.
But again, they'd be doing so at the risk of losing someone who's already proven himself to be uniquely multidimensional and a favorite among the fans.
To me, the pros of retaining Hayward far outweigh the cons, even if it means going over that dreaded threshold of $50 million.
If he signed an offer in that ballpark that lasted four years, he'd be making somewhere around $12-13 million a season. That would still leave Utah some wiggle room under next season's salary cap:
Confirming @ESPNSteinLine tweet -- league's projected cap/tax for 2013-14 is currently $58.5M & $71.6M. For 2014-15 it's $62.1M & $75.7M.— Larry Coon (@LarryCoon) June 3, 2013
Adding that to what the Jazz already have guaranteed in 2014-15 would bring the payroll to just over $40 million (per ShamSports).
How much is Hayward worth?
A max deal is the only thing the Jazz should even think twice about. Stein believes that Hayward will attract max offers in free agency worth around $60 million.
But even matching that would only bring the guaranteed money to around $45 million, still leaving some space for potential extensions for Burks and Kanter.
The question ultimately is whether or not the team can replace Hayward's production on the floor and his popularity off it with a player or players who cost less.
Between all the young, talented players on the roster, the production could likely be made up for. But the impact beyond the numbers would take longer to replace.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.