SALT LAKE CITY — Gordon Hayward and the Utah Jazz got down to the business of business on Thursday, despite having few specific answers.
An agreement was never reached when the sides discussed a contract extension, last year. So Hayward entered the season knowing on July 1 he will be a restricted free agent.
Thus the team can keep its multi-faceted wing player, if it wishes. In some ways, the season didn’t raise his value. It only threw the Jazz into free-agent angst.
How much do they spend on a talented but not dominant player?
“[One] challenge we had is that Gordon’s very comfortable, educated, smart, talented — and will he push through his comfort level to move past good to become very significant in this league?” said general manager Dennis Lindsey. “I think there’s a level that if you really want to reflect and [have him] get uncomfortable with himself, I think he can hit another level.”
Something similar happened 10 years ago, when Russia-born Andrei Kirilenko’s contract year arrived. A few years later it looked as though something had been lost in translation. His role had changed so many times, neither he nor the Jazz seemed sure of it. The high salary impeded the team’s efforts to sign others.
Fast-forward a decade and you have another multi-position stat machine on the podium. Just like Kirilenko, Hayward is neither a team leader nor a pure scorer, merely a guy with many valuable skills.
Should the Jazz match any offer?
Up to $10-$12 million, sure.
Beyond that he’d need to be a superstar.
The Jazz keep waiting, but after four years that seems unlikely.
For all the things Hayward can be for the Jazz, what he could be for someone else is even more intriguing. Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles and Phoenix are among teams with cap space to overpay Hayward. Picture him playing for a revamped Laker team. Or reminding the Jazz that Phoenix not only has its former player and assistant coach, but won 23 more games this year.
Among the goals he had last year was to increase his leadership. Although Hayward does so by example, he has made little headway as a vocal leader.
“I think I definitely made steps (in leadership),” Hayward said at locker cleanout Thursday. “I still have a ways to go, but definitely steps were made.”
Although his field goal percentage was the lowest of his career, his rebounds, assists and steals were up. The only other players in the league to average 15-plus points and 5-plus rebounds and assists were LeBron James, Michael Carter-Williams, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Pete Maravich is the only other Jazz player ever to do so.
“I had a solid year. I didn’t shoot the ball very well, but we’ll see what the Jazz think, what other teams think when my agent and I start talking,” Hayward.
Nothing summarized his season more than late in Wednesday’s win over Minnesota. A potentially winning shot thudded off the glass without touching the rim. But Hayward followed with two impressive blocks.
There he was again, tantalizingly close to being great.
Indiana All-Star Paul George, who was selected right behind Hayward in 2010, signed a deal last fall worth up to $18 million annually. Stan Van Gundy, the former NBA coach, told 1280 The Zone last winter, “the way the game is going, a perimeter guy who is not a good shooter, not a real good shooter, I think that limits his value in today’s game."
He put Hayward’s value at $6.5 to $7 million, twice this year's salary.
But value is relative. To a team needing only one more piece, he’s worth far more.
Asked how close he and the Jazz were last fall when negotiations failed, Hayward said, “I don’t know numbers exactly, we didn’t really talk. I didn’t really think about it too much. We talked briefly, but we’ll talk about it again shortly.”
In other words, none of your business.
The problem with free agents is they’re much like New York real estate: if you don’t pay up, somebody will. Utah doled out over $12 million annually for Derrick Favors.
Anything beyond that would be risking another Kirilenko situation.
“It’s safe to say Gordon will get very significant salary, but we stand by our statement that we hope he’s a member of the Utah Jazz for the length of his career,” Lindsey said.
The Jazz have the money and it’s almost certain they’ll use it.
Half because they need him and half because someone else needs him even more.
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