Despite all the struggles of last season, Gordon Hayward still insisted he had what it took to be the man. As losses mounted and shot after shot drew iron, he continued to believe he had the ability to be one of the league’s best players.
Now, if nothing else, the soft-spoken kid from Indiana will be paid like one of them.
When the NBA’s moratorium lifts after midnight on the East Coast, Hayward will sign an offer sheet from the Charlotte Hornets, according to a source, worth $63 million over four years. The deal is the maximum allowed for Hayward, the restricted free agent, and will make him one of the 30 highest paid players in the league.
The Jazz were expected to receive the offer sheet late Wednesday, at which point the team would have 72 hours to decide whether to match.
Now the questions remain:
• Is he worth it?
• And who will be cutting his paychecks?
All along, the Jazz have seen Hayward as a key piece to the team’s future. General manager Dennis Lindsey has said he hopes to see Hayward “in a Utah Jazz jersey until he retires.” And NBA sources indicate the Jazz will indeed end up matching the offer.
“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 last week. “They think he can get better and that he can take a leap forward.”
With the moratorium still in place Wednesday morning, new Jazz coach Quin Snyder avoided questions about Hayward’s deal while lauding his value to the organization.
“Gordon has proven himself to be an integral part of what’s being built here,” Snyder said. “Obviously, everybody in the league knows he’s a talent and a really good player.”
Point guard Trey Burke and center Rudy Gobert both expressed a desire to see Hayward on the roster next season.
“Of course,” Gobert said. “He’s part of the process.”
The Jazz process, meanwhile, has set the organization up for this.
The Jazz front office has worked diligently to maintain flexibility and cap space as the franchise has taken on this rebuilding project - and officials believe they can keep Hayward without jeopardizing the team’s future.
Even with Hayward receiving a max offer, the Jazz would still be $2 million below the cap floor next season.
The bigger questions for the Jazz lurk beyond this season.
Like Hayward and Derrick Favors last summer, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks are heading into the fourth and final years of their rookie contracts and are eligible for extensions. Kanter is set to make $5.6 million this year and Burks roughly $3 million. Both will be in line for raises in 2014-15.
But even then, the Jazz will likely have room to maneuver.
If the salary cap (just over $63 million next season) were to go unchanged the same in 2015-16, the Jazz would have at least $20 million in cap space next summer, and the team wouldn’t hit the luxury tax threshold until committing to $77 million. The cap, however, is expected to continue to increase, and should rise to over $70 million during the lifetime of Hayward’s deal. That could be especially important in the summer of 2017, when Burke and Gobert will most likely come off their rookie deals.
And Hayward’s deal will be over by the time point guard Dante Exum’s rookie contract runs out.
Still, this is a substantial deal - and more expensive than the Jazz would have had to spend had they been able to lock Hayward up before last season began.
After extension talks broke down last fall agent Mark Bartelstein said Hayward had not been seeking a max deal from the Jazz.
Hayward was thrust into the role of being the Jazz’s top option last year. His squad struggled to win and he struggled with his shot, dipping to career lows in field goal and three point percentage.
But Hayward also showed off his diverse skill set.
Hayward averaged 16 points, five rebounds and five assists.
And in a market short on wing talent and flush with cash (the Jazz were one of 11 teams with the cap space to offer Hayward a max deal), the wait has paid off for Hayward.
Now Utah will have to dig deeper into its coffers to keep him.
Once the Jazz receive the terms of the signed offer sheet, the franchise will have 72 hours to decide whether to match. According to reports, the deal includes a player option for the final year of the deal, giving Hayward a chance to opt out after three seasons.