Are Utah Jazz Making Right Call by Reportedly Keeping Gordon Hayward?

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Are Utah Jazz Making Right Call by Reportedly Keeping Gordon Hayward?
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Gordon Hayward is going to get it's-raining-hundy-sticks paid this offseason, and despite spirited speculation to the contrary, he'll most likely be showering with Benjamins on the Utah Jazz' dime. 

After failing to hash out an extension during the season, Hayward enters restricted free agency as one of the most coveted commodities. And though he's already generating plenty of interest, the Desert News' Jody Genessy, says he isn't going anywhere:

Keeping Hayward is going to cost the Jazz. It would have cost them in October if they had ironed out an extension, but it stands to cost them even more now that they're no longer negotiating against themselves.

Competing teams will drum up Hayward's value. It happens all the time in restricted free agency. The Phoenix Suns did it to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012 when they dangled a max contract in front of Eric Gordon, forcing the Pellies to match. They could do the same thing to the Jazz now, as can the Charlotte Hornets and any other interested teams with cap space.

Matching a max-offer sheet would mean the Jazz are committing more than $60 million to Hayward over the next four years, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. While he may not land that max offer, he could. And if he does, it appears the Jazz will match it.

Is that the right call? 

 

A Weird 2013-14

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This isn't the same as asking, "Is Hayward worth a max contract?"

The two questions are related, but they are not one in the same. Different players hold different values to different teams. 

Looked at in a vacuum, Hayward is certainly valuable. His offensive efficiency plummeted last season, but he was still productive, averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. 

Only four other NBA players posted at least 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and one steal for all of 2013-14: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Michael Carter-Williams—three superstars and the Rookie of the Year.

Some company. Joining those ranks looks good by itself. Any time you're mentioned in the same breath as James and Durant, you're in business.

But Carter-Williams' inclusion matters here. His stellar rookie campaign received a boon from the Philadelphia 76ers' tanking strategy. They were clearly playing for Andrew Wiggins—they wound up with Joel Embiid—which allowed Carter-Williams to pad his stat lines and chase this award.

And he did chase it. Flagrantly. You could see it in his decision-making and the way head coach Brett Brown gave him free, unchecked reign.

Although Hayward wasn't chasing anything last season, he played for a 25-win Jazz team. He was also in a contract year. Players are notorious for overperforming when tens of millions of dollars are at stake.

Rocky Widner/Getty Images
Hayward struggled in his first year as Utah's No. 1 option.

Hayward's plunging efficiency remains a concern as well. In his first full season as the team's No. 1 option, he shot a career low from the floor overall (41.3 percent) and from three-point range (30.4). 

Was this indicative of Hayward's potential as a top dog? Or was it the product of drastic transition? 

Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated rolled with the latter:

This was a messy, formative year for Hayward. The results were somewhat predictable: Hayward’s shooting efficiency tumbled to a career low amid a poorly spaced offense and his turnover rate rose accordingly. Those are not, in themselves, positive indicators for Hayward’s development. Yet they come from a place of radically different usage and an expansion of responsibility with inherent growing pains.

Prior to 2013-14, Hayward had been sheltered as only an occasional creator, utilized instead to space the floor and cut through complementary action. Though terrific in both of those regards, it was high time for Hayward to step outside himself. 

Stepping outside himself entailed dominating the ball more, initializing the offense more. He was basically a point forward, assuming a role he was never projected to play. He wasn't half-bad either, proving useful as a primary playmaker who could run the offense in ways only Trey Burke can and Alec Burks can't.

One year isn't a large enough sample size to write him off as a No. 1 option. Developments like these take time, they take adjustments, something Hayward himself appears to recognize.

"I just haven’t shot the ball as well as I wanted," he told Grantland's Zach Lowe in March. "It’s different. Guys aren’t leaving me that much. I’m getting different shots—shots that I’m not used to taking."

Much about Hayward's performance can be chalked up to shell shock and inexperience. He should be more accustomed to his place at the top in 2014-15, when he's had an entire offseason to work on different shots and scenarios and familiarize himself with the intricate workings of an offensive lifeline.

 

Determining Hayward's Value

Remaining the alpha dog should be easier next season.

Burke has a year of experience under his belt, and Burks is entering season No. 4. Their developments, in theory, should lighten the offensive load Hayward is tasked with carrying.

Rookie Dante Exum helps as well. He's yet another weapon—someone else opposing defenses need to worry about and account for. And if one or both of Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors return with a semblance of consistent offensive contributions, Hayward's efficiency has the chance to skyrocket.

Isn't that opportunity worth investing in? Certainly.

How much is it worth to the Jazz? Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey offers his take:

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.

If only this were that simple.

The Jazz don't have the luxury of setting a ceiling on Hayward's earning potential. The market will set his value. Regardless of what it is, the Jazz cannot look at it as "too expensive" without giving serious thought to their position.

Other youngsters will need to be paid, like Bailey notes. Kanter and Burks will each need an extension soon enough. Committing too much money to Hayward could impact how far the Jazz are willing to go for either of them.

But the Jazz also aren't prepared to replace Hayward. 

Free agents don't flock to Utah in today's NBA. It isn't a big, flashy market with endless off-court potential. The Jazz won't let Hayward walk now only to sign Kevin Love or some other superstar next summer. It doesn't work like that.

Their offseason plans are telling. Genessy says they "aren't expected to be big players" in free agency this summer, opting instead to use their resources to keep Hayward and Marvin Williams. This, despite having $20-plus million in spending power at their disposal.

Makes sense, since the Jazz, while armed with cap space, won't enter the discussion for top-tier free agents. 

 

Easy Choice, Necessary Choice

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This is what Hayward's free agency is really about for the Jazz: moving forward with the hand they've been dealt. 

Should the Jazz retain Gordon Hayward this summer?

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In the absence of free-agent appeal, they must do everything and anything they can to retain incumbent talent, to pay those who are willing to play for them. That may include overpaying Hayward; it may include matching a totally reasonable offer. It doesn't matter.

"We think Coach (Quin) Snyder’s system will bring out some of the skills he’s already shown, maybe even to a greater degree," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said of Hayward, via Genessy. "We anticipate that Gordon will be with the Jazz for a long time."

Indeed, he will.

Whatever the cost for Hayward, the Jazz will pay it. They have to. It's the right move.

When the alternative has them losing a potential star they won't be replacing anytime soon, it's the only move. 

 

*Salary information via ShamSports.

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