The Cleveland Cavaliers may or may not offer Jazz small forward Gordon Hayward a hefty contract in free agency. If not, another team around the league could swoop in with a significant offer sheet for the restricted free agent.
Ultimately, league sources insist, nothing will be capable of prying Hayward away from the Utah Jazz, as the front office is committed to keeping Hayward in the fold and making him the face of Utah’s rebuild — which is heading into its second season.
“The Jazz feel like he’s young enough and enough of a hard worker that he will get better,” an NBA source told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They think he can get better and that he can take a leap forward.”
Indeed, Hayward is 24 years old and hasn’t entered the prime of his career yet. He’s one of the few around the NBA who averaged 16 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last season and is versatile enough to play all three perimeter positions.
Still, questions surrounded his performance in clutch situations, his seeming unwillingness to be a top option offensively and his penchant for turning the ball over. Through it all, sources say, the Jazz like Hayward’s progress and feel he’s more than capable of growing into the featured role — even if it comes at a steep cost.
League sources also confirm to The Tribune that the Jazz have had talks with free agent guard Kent Bazemore, a 6-foot-5 athlete who showed flashes of promise last season after a midseason trade to the Los Angeles Lakers.
In his first season in the league, 2012-13, Bazemore appeared in 61 games with Golden State, but averaged just 2.0 points in 4.4 minutes per game. He then played in 44 games for the Warriors last season, and again saw little action, averaging 2.3 points in 6.1 minutes.
But after being included in a deal that sent veteran point guard Steve Blake from the Lakers to the Warriors, Bazemore flourished during a brief stint in then-coach Mike D’Antoni’s uptempo system.
It’s a small sample size, but in 23 games with the Lakers, Bazemore averaged 13.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes, while shooting 45.1 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent from 3-point range.
As much as talent, sources say, the Jazz are looking for players who will be a good fit with the core young guys they already have.
Utah’s looking for shooting from all spots on the floor. The Jazz like the idea of surrounding Derrick Favors with shooters, and feel that the floor spacing will open up driving lanes for Alec Burks, Trey Burke, new draftee Dante Exum, and Hayward.
Through three days of free agency, Utah’s been quiet. But a large reason for that has been the focus on Hayward — negotiations with his camp and waiting to see if he gets an offer from another team.
Also, around the NBA, there’s an unspoken freeze on significant free agents like Hayward and Detroit’s Greg Monroe while teams are waiting to see what LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are going to do. Once those guys decide their destinations, offers for the next tier of free agents will start pouring in.
Sources say the Jazz are still in the market for a young veteran free agent that can come in and help. The Jazz are also still open to being involved in trades that amount to salary dumps from teams who are trying to land big fish, such as Minnesota’s Kevin Love.
Utah did this last season, taking on the big contract of Richard Jefferson, and the Jazz were able to acquire a first-round pick from Golden State for their trouble.