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Utah Jazz's Gordon Hayward, right, goes up for a shot past a fallen Philadelphia 76ers' Thaddeus Young during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 8, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Utah Jazz: It’s almost summer for free agent Hayward
NBA » Jazz swingman is on verge of big contract — will Utah match all offers?
First Published Mar 29 2014 12:41 pm • Last Updated Mar 29 2014 11:44 pm

The main entrance to EnergySolutions Arena is flanked by images of Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors on the left and Trey Burke and Alec Burks on the right. In the middle, standing guard over the building’s doors, is Gordon Hayward.

He is the Utah Jazz’s leading scorer, one of the young team’s new captains, the face of the franchise. He is also the only one of those five players without a contract beyond this season.

At a glance

Gordon Hayward, by the numbers

Season Games Minutes Points Rebounds Assists FG% 3FG%

2010-11 72 16.9 5.4 1.9 1.1 48.5 47.3

2011-12 66 30.5 11.8 2.6 3.1 45.6 34.6

2012-13 72 29.2 14.1 3.1 3 43.5 41.5

2013-14 68 36.3 16.0 5.2 5.2 41.5 31.3

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In a 2013-14 campaign filled with disappointment, the 24-year-old says he’s pushed his summertime uncertainty to the back of his mind. But summer is coming.

"I think we all realize how close it is," Hayward says. "And that’s something we’re trying to keep out of our minds. We’re just trying to take it game by game. We all have a lot to prove. We have a lot of improving to do. We can’t look to the summer yet, but we realize how close it is."

In July, the Jazz will reopen negotiations with Hayward’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, hoping to reach the agreement that eluded them last fall. And one way or another, Hayward and the Jazz will begin a new chapter.

There have been too many losses and missed jump shots. Hayward will be the first to admit that.

And the swingman from Butler, unaccustomed to both, has worn his displeasure on his sleeve at times.

"We’ve had a tough season and you see it on his face and his emotions," his friend and teammate Jeremy Evans said.

Before the season, Hayward was unceremoniously tasked with leading the rebuilding Jazz. But as the year opened, Hayward watched as the Jazz reached a four-year deal with his co-captain, Derrick Favors, while the Jazz declined to match Hayward’s asking price, letting him become a restricted free agent in July.

What’s followed has been a season of ups and downs.

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The Jazz are 23-50 with nine games left to play in the season, and Hayward’s field-goal and 3-point percentages are at career-low levels.

A new contract won’t improve a jump shot, but his teammates know it will be a weight off his shoulders once it’s done.

"That’s with everybody," Evans said. "He’s focusing on playing right now, but that’s still back there above his head sometimes. You don’t know what’s going to happen. When he’s done with that, he can relax and just play."

Said Jazz coach Ty Corbin, "It’s huge for anybody. Young player, old player, anybody in this league. It’s your livelihood."

As much as anything, this season for Hayward has been about establishing himself.

It’s been a difficult task at times. He no longer has Al Jefferson in the post, demanding double teams, or Paul Millsap there to take a big shot.

Hayward’s usage is up and his efficiency is down.

Still, as the season winds to a close, Hayward believes he has what it takes to be a No. 1 option — a job Corbin says requires "almost an arrogance" — going forward.

"You definitely have to have a swag," Hayward said. "You have to play with confidence. You have to know that you’re one of the best guys on the court and play like it too. … It’s something that I embrace. It’s a challenge, but it’s something that I’m excited about."

He’s shown flashes of it this season:

• He leads the Jazz in scoring, averaging 16 points a game. He’s second in assists (5.2) and third in rebounds (5.3)

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