Matching Gordon Hayward’s max offer sheet — the one for $63 million over four years he received late Tuesday night in Charlotte — is a steep endeavor, at face value.
But the Utah Jazz and general manager Dennis Lindsey have done such a diligent job in clearing space under the salary cap that the Jazz can afford to eat the money, bring Hayward back into the fold and hardly blink.
Can the Jazz afford Hayward’s deal?
Projected NBA salary cap over the next four seasons:
2014-15 » $63 million
2015-16 » $67 million
2016-17 » $71 million
2017-18 » $75 million
Jazz salary commitments as of now:
2014-15 » $54.43 million
2015-16 » 40.13 million
2016-17 » $37.98 million
2017-18 » $36.12 million
Source: Nate Duncan, NBA cap analyst for basketballinsiders.com
This is a significant reason that Utah fans shouldn’t expect Hayward to go anywhere. The Jazz have prepped themselves for this day, have always said they will match any offer Hayward receives on the restricted free agent market, and have made that known to pretty much every team around the league.
With the salary cap at $63 million for the 2014-2015 season, even matching Hayward’s max offer sheet will leave Utah with $8.7 million remaining to spend on another free agent, should Lindsey see fit. The reason? Only Hayward ($14.7 million) and center Derrick Favors ($12.9 million) will be making significant money. Everyone else currently on the roster will still be on their first NBA deals.
That’s given the Jazz a huge amount of flexibility going forward, which they always planned on using for Hayward, no matter what.
The signs of Hayward receiving huge money were apparent at the beginning of free agency. Shooting guard Jodie Meeks left the Los Angeles Lakers and signed with the Detroit Pistons for $19 million over three years. Shooting guard Avery Bradley will receive $32 million over four seasons with the Boston Celtics.
Hayward may not be a player who is worthy of max money, but he is a much better player than Meeks and Bradley, both of whom are not much more than specialists. Clearly, the market thought a lot of Hayward. The Cleveland Cavaliers flirted with him, and would’ve tendered him a significant offer, but backed off the minute they realized they were a major player in the LeBron James sweepstakes.
And Hayward’s numbers this past season — 16 points, five assists, and five rebounds per game — suggest that he’s the kind of rare all-around talent that many teams around the league crave.
But that’s why the Jazz covet Hayward, as well. His shooting numbers — 40 percent overall from the field and 30 percent from behind the 3-point arc — leave Hayward exposed to criticism from fans and analysts. But the sources told The Tribune at the beginning of free agency that the Jazz see him as a player capable of making a significant leap forward, and one capable of shooting much better under new head coach Quin Snyder.
The life of the deal — four years (though the fourth year is a player option) — makes the contract easy to digest as well. If the upward trajectory of the salary cap continues at the $4 million pace, a $75 million projected cap ceiling in 2017-2018 will make Hayward’s $16.7 million expiring deal easy to manage. At that point, both Favors and now-rookie guard Dante Exum will be ready for new deals as well, and the Jazz will have a good idea of what they want to do with the roster.
The rookie contracts of Trey Burke, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter will all expire in the next three seasons, making them restricted free agents if they don’t first reach extensions with the team. But the Jazz, heading into 2015-2016, are projected to be $27 million under the cap. So if they choose, they can hand out big money in those directions as well.
And that’s with Hayward’s max deal on the books. All of which signals the Jazz are in good shape, financially.
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