Gordon Hayward has transformed himself into an elite NBA player, and now he wants to be paid on that level. This article examines which teams could step up to the plate and ultimately where Hayward will end up.
Gordon Hayward has become the focal point of the Utah Jazz offense in recent seasons. This year another step forward by the 27-year-old Hayward finally lead Utah to the playoffs. They defeated the mighty LA Clippers in the first round before ultimately being swept by the Golden State Warriors.
These were significant developments for the Jazz. Utah’s last playoff appearance was in 2012, and they had not won a playoff series since 2010 when legend Jerry Sloan was the coach, and a prime Deron Williams was running the point.
Utah features a young core, and things appear to be on an upward trajectory, but Gordon Hayward could throw a wrench into the plan. Hayward has a player option for next season, and he is likely to opt for free agency. Utah cannot afford to lose Hayward and maintain its strides, so let us examine Hayward’s options in free agency and then try to conclude where he ends up.
Option 1: Utah Jazz
Even if Hayward opts out that doesn’t mean he leaves Utah. It is important to remember the CBA has helped the Jazz and every team looking to retain their players by giving them the ability to offer both more years and more dollars to the players. If it is just about money, Hayward will be back with the Jazz. Let us look at the four primary reasons Hayward will return to Utah.
Reason 1: More Money
KSL.com does a fantastic job of breaking down the figures year by year if you are interested in going in depth, but as things stand now, Hayward can make $179.22 million playing for Utah for the next five seasons and $132.87 million playing the next four season for any other team. That is 46.35 million reasons to be wearing a Jazz uniform for the next five years.
Things get even more lucrative for Mister Hayward if he makes an All-NBA team this season. That would allow the new Designated Player Extension to kick in and up Hayward’s salary to roughly $236.3 million over the next six seasons.
No matter how you slice it, Utah can offer more money than other team pursuing Hayward this offseason.
Reason 2: Number One Option
Gordon Hayward is the man and go-to option for the Utah Jazz on offense. That may not happen if Hayward heads to another city. Hayward had a career season averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.0 three-pointers made per game. He was a very efficient scorer this regular season shooting 47 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 84 percent from the foul line. Those are fantastic numbers, and Hayward is young enough to improve them next year for Utah.
If he pulls a Kevin Durant and joins a team with an established superstar or two, you have to figure Hayward’s numbers are negatively affected. Gordon Hayward does not strike me as a super macho, I have to be the number one option type of player, so maybe this will not be a huge factor in his decision.
Reason 3: Familiarity and Comfort
It is human nature to want to stay in your comfort zone and reap the benefits of known outcomes. Hayward has played all seven of his NBA seasons with the Jazz. He has gotten married while playing for Utah and had two children during his tenure. He would be forced to uproot his family and move to a new place which is a reason to stay albeit not the most compelling thing to be told.
Reason 4: Team Comradery
Joe Ingles and George Hill both played for the Jazz last season and are free agents. They have both made comments about wanting to return because of the atmosphere in Utah. You can read for yourself the comments by Ingles here and Hill here. It seems like the Jazz have a unique locker room and bond with their fans. That could be a compelling reason for Hayward to stay.
Option 2: Boston Celtics
If any team can wrestle Gordon Hayward away from the Jazz, the Boston Celtics are probably that team. Boston offers Hayward a plethora of unique opportunities even the Jazz cannot match.
Boston is the only team still alive in the playoffs (leading the Washington Wizards three games to two as of this writing in the Conference Semifinals) that can offer Hayward a max contract. Hayward would be trading up regarding heading to a more successful team with a deeper roster. The Celtics will add more depth with the addition of at worst the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
It would also reunite Hayward with his college coach. Brad Stevens was the Head Coach at Butler during Hayward’s two seasons at the school. Their time included a trip to the National Championship game and a narrow loss to Duke from lifting the trophy. Hayward and Stevens remain close, and it would be an alluring factor in his decision.
It also gives Hayward the opportunity to join the storied Celtics franchise and perhaps be the piece that pushes them past LeBron and back to the NBA Finals. It would be their first finals appearance since 2010, a long drought for the Celtics.
Boston would be the team that takes the most pressure off Hayward. He would not have to be the number one option in Boston or be the face of the team. That may be something Hayward wants and a factor in his decision.
Option 3: Los Angeles Lakers
Admittedly this one is a bit of a stretch, but I will give you my reasoning. Hayward trained with Kobe Bryant during the offseason. It would be a chance to play with a storied franchise and get advice from all-time great Magic Johnson. It would allow him the opportunity to play for a big market club and still be the number one option (perhaps his only chance as he would play second fiddle to Isaiah Thomas for Boston in my opinion). It is a stretch, but I believe Hayward at least considers this option.
Option 4: Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets are the dark horse candidates to secure Hayward’s services. Denver has an intriguing young roster and plenty of cap space. Danilo Gallinari could be gone, and they would allow Hayward to slot in on the wing as the number one option. It would give Denver a deep roster with a ton of room to grow in the next few seasons. Denver is an intriguing option for Hayward to consider.
After examining the landscape for Gordon Hayward’s services (and I looked at all 14 teams that currently have the cap room to add a max contract according to Basketball Insiders), I just do not see Hayward leaving Utah. They finally broke through and made the playoffs this season. He is their star player, and by all accounts, Utah is a great place to play basketball. All of that goes without mentioning that they can make Hayward a much richer man than any other team. All of that trumps playing for your college coach or anywhere else in the NBA. Enjoy your star Utah because I think he will be staying for the long haul.