NBA

Best Potential 2014 Free-Agent Landing Spots for Gordon Hayward

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 4, 2014

Best Potential 2014 Free-Agent Landing Spots for Gordon Hayward

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Gordon Hayward is undoubtedly one of the more appealing players on the open market, boasting a combination of scoring, passing and rebounding skills that few players can match. But matching is an interesting concept when it comes to the 24-year-old swingman, who last suited up for the Utah Jazz. 

    Because Hayward is a restricted free agent, the Jazz can match any offer sheet that he signs. As soon as the ink from his pen finishes leaving a trail on the relevant piece of paper, Utah will have three days to exercise its right of first refusal and bring him back to Salt Lake City. 

    Will the Jazz do so regardless of the price? So far, all indications point toward a positive answer. 

    "Hayward is one of the top young free agents on the market, but the widespread belief is that the Utah Jazz would match any offer that comes his way," reports USA Today's Sam Amick

    However, this is the time of year when smokescreens are plentiful. It's possible the Jazz are just bluffing, trying to prevent teams from signing Hayward to a max offer sheet because they think they'd be wasting their time and effort. If the swingman actually does draw a max deal, there's no telling what the conversations will be like in Utah's front office. 

    Hayward might not have control, but he still has options. 

Best of the Rest

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    Los Angeles Lakers

    It's all about the appeal of the franchise. 

    The Los Angeles Lakers are still one of the most prestigious organizations in sports, and Hayward would have the ability not only to don the purple and gold, but also to play alongside Kobe Bryant. And once the Mamba's career draws to a conclusion, he'd become one of the faces of the franchise, assuming he improves over the next few seasons. 

    Would Hayward have a shot at winning games or controlling the ball in the immediate future? Probably not, at least not to the same extent that he would with other franchises. 

    However, the Lakers are the Lakers.

    Tautological as that may seem, there's a reason they've always been able to attract marquee players. 

     

    Cleveland Cavaliers

    "There was, the person said, no plan among the Cavaliers front office of presenting an offer sheet on Wednesday and the possibility remains that one could eventually come his way from the Cavaliers," reports Amick, countering the claims that Cleveland has been nearing a max contract offer for the young swingman. 

    Smart. 

    Even though Hayward could probably cash in rather significantly with the Cavs, it's hard to see him fitting in with the roster. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are ball-stopping guards who would prevent him from controlling the rock as often as he's used to, and Andrew Wiggins plays the same position. 

    Who do you think is going to be considered the future of the franchise between those two? 

5. Phoenix Suns

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    It's impossible to look past the connection between Hayward and Jeff Hornacek, who has moved on from assisting the Jazz to running the show for Phoenix Suns. Quite successfully, I might add, if the 2013-14 season is any indication. 

    While Hornacek was working with him during the 2012-13 campaign, the former Butler standout shot a career-best 41.5 percent from downtown, which stands in stark contrast to the 30.4 percent beyond the arc he posted this past year. Losing the offensive protection of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap hurt as well. 

    But both those would be remedied by a reunion with Hornacek. 

    Not only would he be coached by the former Jazz standout once more, but he'd be surrounded by offensive talent. Millsap and Jefferson are elsewhere, but Goran Dragic and the rest of the Suns will draw far more defensive attention than his Utah teammates.

    The kick-out-three possibilities are fantastic.

    "You know, he played my position, kinda went through the same things," explained Hayward about Hornacek in a February interview with Jazz Fanatical. "Obviously, a really good shooter, and knows usually what was wrong with what I was doing or he would give me a little tip here or there. But a lot of times just working with me, working on the shot, everyday."

    But listen to a third party, Derrick Favors, talk about the relationship as well:

    Man, he worked with me a lot. I mean, he didn’t work with me as much as he did with Gordon [Hayward] and Jeremy [Evans], but you know, I used to always go over there to him when he got done working with Jeremy and Gordon, and you know, just ask him for little techniques or whatever.

    So he worked with Favors a lot, but he worked with Hayward even more. 

    Oh, and in November, Hornacek told Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune he felt his former pupil could be an All-Star one day. 

    I'm sure he'd love to find out firsthand. 

4. Charlotte Hornets

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    USA TODAY Sports

    "We were due for some luck," general manager Rich Cho told Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer after landing Noah Vonleh and P.J. Hairston in the 2014 NBA draft. 

    Well, the luck could continue in free agency for this up-and-coming Eastern Conference franchise. The Charlotte Hornets still have money to burn and a need for shooters and small forwards as they continue their ascent toward the top of the NBA's weaker half. 

    As Sorensen speculates—and let's keep in mind this is speculation, not a rumor from an inside source—that money would be well spent on Hayward: 

    If I’m Cho, I also court Gordon Hayward of Utah. Like Parsons, he’s a restricted free agent.

    Hayward, 24, averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists last season. He is, in essence, a 6-8 guard. Like Parsons, he’s selfless, which makes him a good teammate.

    Hayward’s shooting percentage, however, has declined in each of his four seasons. He shot 41.3 percent from the field in 2013-14 and 30.4 percent (also a career low) on three-point attempts. He’s a talent who has never worked with Mark Price.

    Can you imagine the offensive damage he could do for a team that needs a scoring spark but also has more potent weapons than the ones on the Utah roster? Plus, working with Mark Price has to be appealing, particularly for a player whose stroke hasn't improved over the years. 

    The Hornets don't have market appeal and are still working to remove a ridiculous losing stigma from their name, but this would be a fantastic destination for the 24-year-old. 

3. Utah Jazz

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Why fix something that ain't broken? 

    Sure, the Jazz didn't win many games while Hayward was leading the charge, but it's not like they were surrounding him with a bunch of established talent. This team is only getting better, between the draft-day additions—Dante Exum and Rodney Hood—and the expected improvements of all the young players. 

    As Trey Burke becomes more dangerous as an NBA point guard, Derrick Favors adjusts to becoming a go-to frontcourt player, Enes Kanter starts living up to his potential and Alec Burks continues improving, Hayward won't draw as much defensive attention. 

    That, in a nutshell, is why he struggled to post solid percentages in 2013-14. Taking away Jefferson and Millsap without viable replacements put too much responsibility on his shoulders.

    Nonetheless, Utah scored 2.6 additional points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, per Basketball-Reference.com

    Should he return, Hayward will remain the featured player, but he'll also play with a better supporting cast. And that can make all the difference, even if we've learned that No. 20 is best suited for a secondary role. 

    Utah offers him comfort, responsibility, statistics, an opportunity to remain loyal and a chance to grow along with a franchise that boasts as much untapped potential as any.

    Let's not forget that in 2013-14—poor percentages be damned—Hayward was one of five players to post at least 16 points, five rebounds, five assists and a steal per game throughout the season. The other four? Michael Carter-Williams, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook

    That happened in Utah. And chances are, the Jazz are only going to be more competitive going forward, even while leaving him in such a prominent role.

    What's not to love? 

2. Boston Celtics

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    USA TODAY Sports

    If Hornacek is appealing, what does that say about Brad Stevens? 

    The two—Hayward and the head coach—were paired together at Butler, where they created beautiful basketball that led the Bulldogs within a missed half-court heave of a national championship. That time created a bond that won't ever be broken. 

    We already know there's mutual interest this summer, per the Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes (h/t CBS Sports' Ken Berger). 

    "He was just a great guy, No. 1, and I love what he stood for as a person," the restricted free agent told Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com before the 2013-14 campaign was too far underway. "He treated everybody that he recruited as family, and I loved that about it, it was a family atmosphere first and foremost. Obviously, the basketball was pretty great as well. He is a really good coach."

    Then there's this, which Jay King wrote for MassLive.com just prior to the second meeting between Stevens' C's and Hayward's Jazz:

    Brad Stevens and Gordon Hayward had dinner together Sunday night. Though the Boston Celtics reportedly expressed interest in Hayward prior to the trade deadline, the meal wasn't tampering. It was just a coach catching up with one of his former players.

    You might be bored by the Hayward-Stevens story, which I would understand. After the Celtics and Jazz met in November, plenty of articles were written about the former Butler duo. During preparation for that game, Stevens showed such thorough knowledge of Hayward's skills that Jared Sullinger thought it was 'hilarious.' 

    Now, a reunion could be in the works. 

    Of course, it's worth noting this also makes tremendous sense from a basketball perspective. Should Hayward prove that 2013-14 was a strange shooting aberration, he'd bring the perimeter legitimacy Boston so desperately needs from its wings, and he'd surely receive quite a few great feeds from Rajon Rondo throughout the year. 

1. Chicago Bulls

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Just imagine. 

    The crowd is pumped at the United Center before the first tipoff of the 2014-15 campaign, and it gets worked up into a frenzy when the starting lineup is announced.

    Derrick Rose. Jimmy Butler. Gordon Hayward. Taj Gibson. Joakim Noah

    What exactly is that lineup missing? Nothing, although there will always be a crowd that wishes Hayward could be named Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James.

    Not only are there defensive stalwarts at three positions, but Hayward would lend credibility to an offense already benefiting from Rose's return, Noah's passing prowess and more playing time for Gibson. This would immediately become one of the top starting fives in the Association. 

    "The former Butler Bulldog would give the team a legitimate two-way player who can create for himself and his teammates," writes James Davis for Bleacher Report, "And there would be no need to hide him on the opposite side of the floor."

    With the Bulls, Hayward wouldn't receive as much offensive responsibility as he would in Boston or Charlotte. He'd certainly spend less time with the ball in his hands than he did in Salt Lake City. 

    He also wouldn't have a chance to play for one of his former coaches, as he would in either Boston or Phoenix. 

    But he'd win.

    He'd win a lot. 

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