Kragthorpe: Jazz’s Gordon Hayward insists there’s ‘no pressure now’
Despite the expectations that come with a $63 million contract, the swingman says he is feeling fine.

By kurt kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

Published: July 29, 2014 09:39AM
Updated: July 28, 2014 11:25PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

Las Vegas

After everything that has happened since the Jazz’s season ended in April, Gordon Hayward recognizes his life is different now.

The expectations and accountability that accompany his biggest offseason move follow him everywhere.

Signing a $63 million contract? Yeah, that’s also significant.

Hayward stood on UNLV’s practice court after the opening session of Team USA’s training camp Monday, talking with Jazz coach Quin Snyder. He smiled, laughed and cringed — knowing that accepting Snyder’s dinner invitation would involve another layer of decision making with his wife of two months, Robyn; they had already outlined an itinerary of Las Vegas shows.

As for the occupants of those seats in EnergySolutions Arena, Hayward also feels considerable responsibility to them. But that feeling has more to do with “25-57” than “$63 million.” He’s willing to be judged by the Jazz’s record going forward, but not necessarily by the numbers that follow the dollar sign.

“For me, I don’t think I have to live up to anything now,” he said. “They paid me what they wanted to pay me, and let’s go from there.”

That’s naïve in some ways, yet healthy. It’s understandable for Jazz fans to want him to earn that money, but they’re hoping he succeeds, right? If Hayward wants to believe that playing for the contract last season was more difficult than actually trying to justify those checks now, good for him. If that attitude enables him to succeed, everybody wins.

The reality is that as soon as Hayward struggles this season, when his shooting percentage is dropping, the four-year contract that he signed with Charlotte and was matched by the Jazz will hover over him. But he’s not thinking that way, as of late July.

“Oh, man. No pressure now,” Hayward said of his own game. “The pressure is trying to win. That’s the pressure.”

After watching the practice, Snyder hugged Hayward, then they shook hands and said goodbye three times before actually parting. Their partnership is now the core of the Jazz’s rebuilding project, with an offense that should showcase Hayward’s skills.

Atlanta became a high-assist team last season with Snyder as an assistant coach, “and that’s the way I like to play,” Hayward said. “Sharing the basketball, uptempo, spread the court. So I think that fits me well.”

In the coming weeks, Hayward and his wife will shop for a house, establishing their life together in the Salt Lake Valley. First, he’s hoping to be among the 12 players (of 19 candidates) who make the USA roster for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain in September.

“Playing Spain in Spain would be a hell of an experience, with the fans they have there — and obviously, representing the United States,” Hayward said. “It would be a lot of fun.”

Jazz guard Trey Burke, who’s part of the Select Team that’s competing against the Men’s National Team hopefuls in practice this week, believes Hayward’s game translates well to this setting.

“Gordon’s obviously a good shooter, but his ability to slash and defend is what’s going to kind of separate him from a lot of players in the NBA,” Burke said. “I think he’s going to bring a lot of that to this team.”

Ultimately, Hayward will be judged by what he brings to the Jazz this season and beyond. Not widely recruited by college programs out of high school in Indiana, he enjoyed being pursued by other NBA teams — after not believing his agent’s promise that the phone would start ringing at 12:01 a.m. on July 1.

The calls came, as scheduled. So did a contract offer from Charlotte, which he figured the Jazz would match, although he was not quite sure.

“Obviously, they were telling everybody that,” Hayward said, “but that’s part of the business too.”

So are the demands of a fan base in response to his contract. He can’t control that. His only hope is that the Jazz win so much that everybody just goes about their lives happily after this summer’s transactions, as he’s trying to do.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

2014 Team USA candidates

The following 19 players are competing for 12 spots on Team USA’s entry in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup:

Point guards • Stephen Curry (Golden State), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland), Damian Lillard (Portland), Derrick Rose (Chicago), John Wall (Washington).

Wings • Bradley Beal (Washington), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City), Paul George (Indiana), James Harden (Oklahoma City), Kyle Korver (Atlanta), Chandler Parsons (Dallas), Klay Thompson (Golden State).

Big men • DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Kenneth Faried (Denver), Paul Millsap (Atlanta).

Note • Others listed on the 2014-16 roster in advance of the Olympics include LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland), Carmelo Anthony (New York), Tyson Chandler (Dallas), Blake Griffin (L.A. Clippers), Dwight Howard (Houston), Andre Iguodala (Golden State), LeBron James (Cleveland), David Lee (Golden State), Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio), Kevin Love (Minnesota), Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers), Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City), Deron Williams (Brooklyn).

International experience

R Prior to his sophomore year at Butler University, Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward played for the U.S. team that went 9-0 in the 2009 FIBA U-19 World Championships in New Zealand. Hayward averaged 10.0 points and 5.7 rebounds, shooting 47.5 percent from the field.