Gordon Hayward is a wanted man.
According to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer, the Charlotte Hornets just signed the restricted free agent to a four-year, $63 million offer sheet. Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski then reported the Utah Jazz are ready to match the offer to keep Hayward in town.
They really don't have a choice. Without Hayward, the Jazz would be left with two interior-oriented big men in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors who've struggled playing together and two starting guards (Trey Burke, Dante Exum) with one year of NBA experience between them.
Hayward returning is good news for Jazz fans hoping to see a more competitive team in 2015. It also represents good news for prized rookie Dante Exum, who, at 18 years old, will be immediately thrust into the lineup despite not having much of a pro resume.
Not only is Exum young, he hasn't played organized ball in nearly a year—and the games he did play came against mediocre competition in Australia.
Now, he's looking at a major role in the NBA's Western Conference.
Without Hayward, defenses would naturally focus more on stopping Exum, which is a scary thought given how little experience he has playing against NBA-caliber athletes.
Hayward will take some of the pressure off Exum by giving him talent to play off of. He's a guy who can create shots for Exum, while also providing him with a reliable target in the half-court passing game.
Hayward's presence in the lineup might hurt Exum's Rookie of the Year chances, considering the touches and shots he'll steal, but it certainly won't hurt his development.
Besides, Hayward isn't the type of overzealous scorer who lets the ball stick to his hands. His 5.2 assists per game last year reflect his vision, unselfishness and passing ability. Having Hayward's versatile skill set alongside him surely won't hinder Exum's development.
With Trey Burke handling the ball and Hayward scoring and facilitating from the wing, Exum can focus on playing to his strengths, as opposed to having to do too much as a playmaker early on.
Exum's weaknesses stem from his decision-making. The logic here is simple: With Hayward in the lineup, Exum won't have to make as many decisions in his first year on the job. Hayward will allow new coach Quin Snyder to ease the rookie in without too much responsibility while also giving him the reps he needs.
Plus, no Hayward in the lineup would mean that Exum, 6'6", would likely draw opposing teams' top wing defenders. Hayward will ultimately take that bullet next season for Utah, which could create mismatches for Exum at either guard position.
Opposing backcourts could have trouble matching up with Exum and Burke, who can each handle the ball and create off the dribble.
"He’s easy to play with, and I think we could be a good tandem," Burke told Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune about Exum. "It puts pressure on a defense when you have two guys who can be primary ball-handlers. It was good to sometimes bring the ball up, or sometimes go to the corner and spot up and let someone else do the work."
Having Hayward back in Utah should benefit everyone in the lineup by making their jobs a bit easier.
It's not going to help anyone more than Exum, who really needs all the support and offensive protection he can surround himself with in his first year.
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