The Utah Jazz allowed Gordon Hayward to play out his rookie contract without giving him an extension. The decision was essentially a roll of the dice, as Hayward is now free to sign with another team as a restricted free agent.
Of course, Utah still has some leverage in that it can match any offer Hayward signs. The tricky nature of restricted free agency is that the player's current team doesn't get to decide his value, but it can choose whether or not to agree with what the open market dictates.
If Hayward signs a deal worth less than $10 million per year, it should be a no-brainer for the Jazz to match. He's one of the only legitimate point forwards in the league (more on that later), and he's grown to be a fan favorite as a result of spending his first four NBA years in Utah.
If he signs for more than $10 million per year, the decision gets tougher. And prior to the season, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that, "Hayward had been seeking a deal in the four-year, $50-million plus range, sources said."
The Jazz refusing to sign him to that kind of money was the right choice, as Hayward's 2013-14 shooting percentages will make it difficult for anyone to offer him a huge contract.
If some team does top that $50 million threshold, Utah will have to seriously consider letting Hayward walk.
The Case for Letting Hayward Go
Back to those shooting percentages. This past season, his first in the role of No. 1 scorer, Hayward posted career lows in both field-goal and three-point percentage.
The added defensive pressure clearly had an effect on Hayward. In a conversation with Grantland's Zach Lowe, the young forward said:
I just haven’t shot the ball as well as I wanted. It’s different. Guys aren’t leaving me that much. I’m getting different shots — shots that I’m not used to taking. ... Like we discussed earlier, a lot of teams are starting to do the center-field type of defense on the pick-and-roll, so you’re getting midrange floaters. ... And those are shots I honestly don’t like taking...
As Hayward's attempts have gone up, his percentages have gone down. And the fact that that's gone on for four years makes the trend pretty troubling. Having him continue in the role of leading scorer might not make much sense, especially with Alec Burks waiting in the wings.
Following the season, the Deseret News' Mike Sorensen reported that Burks is ready to take on the role of the team's top scorer.
Burks said, "I definitely feel like I can. I’ve got the talent to be. I’ve got the competitiveness to be. I feel like I can become a great player in this league with my athletic ability and potential. I think I can be real good in this league."
He showed all season that he was Utah's most naturally gifted scorer, with a reliable pull-up jump shot, solid handles and top-tier explosiveness that made him one of the league's most underrated slashers. He often finished his drives with acrobatic finishes that prompted the bestowal of the nickname "Houdini" by Jazz play-by-play man Craig Bolerjack.
All his spins, reverses, crossovers and fearlessness at the rim translated into good numbers, as he put up more points per 36 minutes than anyone else on the Jazz.
Thanks to Burks' emergence, letting Hayward go seems less painful. The former can pick up the scoring of the latter, and the money saved could be put toward future extensions for Burks, Enes Kanter or whomever the Jazz select in the lottery of this summer's draft.
The Case for Keeping Hayward
While letting Hayward go is largely based on two things—money and his struggles as a first option—keeping him is based on so much more.
His true value is based on the fact that he does a little bit of everything.
How about rebounding? Hayward was one of just six players in the league who averaged at least five assists and five rebounds.
And finally, there's defense. On that end, Hayward is wildly underrated. He averaged 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocks. Only two other players averaged at least as many swipes and swats.
Put it all together—the assists, rebounds, steals and blocks—and Hayward is all by his lonesome. Literally no other player in the NBA averaged at least 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.5 blocks. Not James, Durant or anyone else.
If the Jazz had a true No. 1 scorer to take the pressure off next season—maybe Burks, maybe Jabari Parker if Utah can trade up in the draft—Hayward could focus on the other aspects of his game that make him so unique.
Even if he's not leading them in points, Hayward would still be a leader because of his ability to make everyone else better with his passing and defense.
This is going to sound like a cop-out, but the decision of whether or not to keep Hayward is truly dependent on the dollars and cents.
If he signs a deal that pays him $10 million per year or less, Utah needs to match it. Hayward does too much to let him walk at that price.
Again, it gets tricky if he agrees to anything more than that. His shooting percentages have trended down since he entered the league, and Utah has plenty more young talent coming up that will need to be paid.
Andy Bailey covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.
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