The Charlotte Hornets "rolled out the red carpet" for Gordon Hayward, wining and dining the restricted free agent, and ultimately signing him to a maximum offer sheet worth $63 million over the next four years.
But there wasn’t anything that could be done to pry him away from the Utah Jazz.
On Saturday, Jazz officials exercised their option to match the offer, bringing back the 24-year-old swingman to lead the team’s rebuilding project.
"We’re thrilled to have a person of Gordon’s caliber," Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. "We’ve been very consistent we wanted Gordon for the duration of his career, and it’s good that we have him back."
The two sides negotiated at length last fall, but were unable to reach an agreement on an extension. Hayward went on to average 16 points, five rebounds and five assists a game last season, as he led a rebuilding Jazz team to a 25-57 record. He also shot career lows in the process.
In the end, the Jazz paid a hefty price for failing to reach a deal last fall. At the time, Hayward and his agent were not seeking a maximum deal.
"[But] when you get to free agency, you never know what will happen," agent Mark Bartelstein said. "He’s a young, unbelievably talented player who’s emerging. Those guys are really hard to get in free agency. There was a lot of interest in him, no question, from day one. We made a lot of visits, talked to a lot of people."
In the end, Charlotte offered the best package.
Hayward’s deal will start at $14.8 million next year, increasing annually. The contract reportedly includes a player option for the final season, giving Hayward the ability to opt out of the deal after three seasons.
The Jazz knew Hayward stood to see a substantial payday. But Lindsey said the high-dollar contract should be viewed in terms of the current market, and the ever-increasing salary cap of the NBA.
"All ships raise with a rising tide," Lindsey said. "The amount that Gordon signed isn’t the same as it is seven years ago. We’re confident that he’s going to make the contract look good."
And team officials see the 6-foot-8 guard/forward as a key piece to the future of the Jazz. For months, team management has expressed an interest in retaining Hayward, with Lindsey going as far as saying he would like to see the swingman retire in a Jazz jersey.
"Gordon is 24, he’s athletic, he’s a great player and he’s a great person. It’s a natural fit for us," Lindsey said.
Utah had until 9:59 p.m. on Sunday to decide, but didn’t need that long.
The franchise made good on its promise Saturday morning.
"There’s a great appreciation on our part for Charlotte, the presentation that they made, the vision they showed and how they wanted to use him and the commitment they made to him," Hayward’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said. "On the other side, it’s wonderful that the Jazz think that highly of Gordon and value him that much that they would match. It’s a strong statement from the Jazz about how he fits in their future. That’s something we don’t take lightly."
While Hayward struggled with his shot last season, he showed off a diverse skill set. The Jazz believe his court vision and creativity will shine in new coach Quin Snyder’s office, a system that emphasizes pace and one Hayward’s best skills: passing.
Despite failing to reach a deal in the fall, Bartelstein said there was never bad blood between the two sides. And now, with a new deal in place, the agent believes his client will be free of some of the pressure of playing last year with uncertainty hanging over his head.
"That’s a lot of pressure," the agent said of playing through a contract year. "You try to put it out of your mind. You tell yourself it’s out of your mind. But it’s human nature. It’s there in the back of your mind all the time. Now he can go do what he loves to do more than anything in the world: go play basketball.
"Now Gordon will go back and focus on the coming season and he’ll play his heart out, the way he always has."
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