According to reports, the Cleveland Cavaliers are set to offer restricted free agent Gordon Hayward a maximum four-year, $63 million contract. This is far more than the four-year, $48 million that Marc Stein is reporting as the possible extension offered by the Utah Jazz before last season. It seems a large sum for a player like Hayward who probably is a solid second or third option on a good team right now, but for small-market clubs like the Jazz and Cavs, overpayment can be the only way to snag quality free agents.
It’s an interesting situation given Hayward’s questionable desire to even play in Cleveland. Per Jazz radio personality Spencer Checketts, when asked once about his least favorite NBA city to play in, the Jazz swing man said, “Cleveland. It’s like visiting Gotham City.” If I were Hayward, I would probably feel the same way. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert‘s public shaming of LeBron James for heading to Miami and the seemingly persistent futility of the franchise both on the court and in the front office make it an interesting choice for anybody with a slew of attractive options.
The question now is whether or not the Jazz should match such an offer. It would be a tough load to shoulder, especially for a Utah team that once found itself somewhat hamstrung by a max contract given to Andrei Kirilenko. The word on the street has always been that the Jazz would match almost any offer, which may be Hayward’s motivation for pursuing this contract. Jazz people might balk at dishing out such a lucrative deal, but despite its size, there’s a case to be made that the team can and would do so here.
With the NBA salary cap projected at around $63 million next season and conventional knowledge being that it will make a jump again the following season, it’s conceivable that the Jazz could take on Hayward’s salary and still have space to re-up with players like Enes Kanter, Trey Burke, Alec Burks and Dante Exum in coming years. At the moment, only Derrick Favors is locked up long term.
If the Jazz were to retain all of those players, they would likely be nearing the luxury tax threshold. But if the young core develops as the team and its fanbase are hoping, that kind of investment from ownership could make a lot of sense. So the question isn’t so much about Utah’s ability to pay Hayward but whether or not his production would ever match that salary.
Hayward has shown the propensity to play on both ends of the floor, has unique court vision for a player of his size and at 16 points, five boards, five assists and 1.5 steals per game, his versatility speaks for itself. He struggled to shoot the ball as the primary option on offense for Utah last season, but if Exum can eventually become the engine that drives the Jazz machine, Hayward could be a second fiddle playing sweet music for the Jazz.
Time will tell how GM Dennis Lindsey reacts to the situation, but as hard as the pill may be to swallow, there’s a case to be made that keeping Hayward in Salt Lake City is a good move for his squad.