The Utah Jazz have a multitude of decisions to make this summer in the NBA off-season. Hiring a new coaching staff and cementing their draft position are the two issues at hand in the near future, but deciding to sign or re-sign free agents in July will be crucial to the development of the young Jazz roster.
Gordon Hayward was the ninth overall pick by the Jazz in the 2010 draft and has had plenty of ups and downs during his time in Salt Lake City. Nevertheless, Hayward has become one of the most promising young swingmen in a league where teams are always looking to add a shooting stretch-forward.
When NBA free agency begins in July, Hayward will be the lone restricted free agent on the Jazz’s books, meaning he can receive offer sheets from other teams that the Jazz can match in order to keep him in Utah. After the abysmal season the Jazz endured during 2013-14, many Jazz fans and media members have wondered if the Jazz should just let go of Hayward and continue the rebuilding process without his possible max-contract eating up the payroll. Others believe that Hayward is a solid piece to the Jazz’s hopes of returning to prominence in the Western conference.
As I previously mentioned, Hayward has had mixed success during his four year career with the Jazz. His point, assist and rebound averages have gone up every year since he joined the Jazz in 2010, proving that there is still room for improvement in his game. However, Hayward has not lived up to the expectations of basketball fans in Salt Lake City. Many had hoped that Hayward would have been a consistent 20 point scorer by now, especially after ending his rookie year with three straight 30+ point performances.
Hayward ended this season as the Jazz’s leading scorer averaging 16.2 points per game in 77 appearances. Many would argue that Hayward had a rough year after having to help lead the young and inexperienced Jazz through this tumultuous season, others say that he should have been scoring more because of the roster and he was missing too many open shots. The one statistic that has consistently dropped during Hayward’s time in the NBA is his field goal percentage, he finished this season shooting just over 41 percent from the floor including a career low 30 percent from three-point range.
GM Dennis Lindsey and former head coach Ty Corbin told Hayward at the beginning of the season that he was expected to take on a larger leadership role among his young teammates throughout the season. After initially accepting the challenge presented to him, it seemed that Hayward began to lose more and more interest in leadership following each loss in the 2013-14 season. It was easy to tell that the constant losses were taking their mental and physical toll on Hayward night in and night out. While fans and observers learned that Hayward may not be a suitable leader in the Jazz locker room, they also learned that he may not be the best fit in Salt Lake City.
There is sure to be some attention coming Hayward’s way when free agency begins. The Boston Celtics, coached by Brad Stevens (Hayward’s former coach at Butler University), will most likely throw a contract offer to Hayward; as will the Phoenix Suns, coached by Jeff Hornacek who was Hayward’s shooting coach with the Jazz the last three seasons.
While the Jazz can offer Hayward the most money, it’s unlikely that they would match a huge contract offer based on his performance from this season. However, Hayward’s performance also played to the Jazz’s advantage. After not being able to negotiate a deal before the season began, Hayward’s lack of superstar playing ability has forced some teams completely out of the Hayward lottery (if you can call it a lottery). While Boston and Phoenix are the two teams most likely to show offers to Hayward, they will probably not be in the maximum money range that he was looking for in 2013.
So the question arises. Do the Jazz give Hayward a decent pay raise to keep him in Utah and hope he further improves? Or do they let another NBA team take their previous top draft pick and continue the rebuilding process with more salary cap flexibility? Or do you talk Hayward into a sign-and-trade and get another pool of talent back in exchange? Personally, I think the Jazz have worked too hard and endured too much to just let Hayward walk away from this organization. Besides, if the draft goes well and the Jazz sign that sought after big free agent, Hayward might just change his tune about staying put in Utah.
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